Elon Musk’s Guide to Being a Good Writer

Reading the title of this essay you probably think I’m being sarcastic. Even before his recent missteps with the purchase of Twitter and some of his outrageous statements about that purchase and the platform’s future, Elon Musk was known for saying outrageous things and frequently putting his foot in his mouth. Why would one want to take his advice on being a good writer?

Whatever your low opinion of him as a person, public figure, or media pundit – it is undeniable that he is an engineering genius. He doesn’t just serve as a hands-off CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. He is a very hands-on person who is involved in some of the day-to-day engineering decisions.

SpaceX has revolutionized rocket transportation. His reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are delivering more cargo to orbit than any other carrier. His upcoming super heavy booster and Starship orbiter are poised to further revolutionize the industry. The reusability feature has drastically cut costs. He is routinely delivering astronauts to the ISS. His competitors such as Rocket Lab, ULA, and Blue Origin are racing to catch up.

Tesla is the first completely new automobile manufacturer to achieve success in modern times. The all-electric vehicles have succeeded over early attempts by other manufacturers such as the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. Other manufacturers are struggling to break into the EV market against the stiff competition and head start by Tesla.

Let’s pause our look at Musk for a moment and talk about my own journey to break into writing fiction. Then I will explain how the engineering principles espoused by Musk can be applied to the process of storytelling.

I’ve had limited success doing technical writing and have created award-winning biographical essays. However, I never attempted fiction until two years ago. In that time I’ve written 10 stories and collected over 50 rejection emails from over a dozen markets. I realize there was only so much that I could teach myself about the craft of storytelling without some sort of outside critique or guidance. I signed up for an online writing seminar with Hugo and Nebula award-winning author David Gerrold. Not only has he given me many valuable insights, but I’ve also developed relationships with other authors in the class most notably Lou J Berger.

In one of our online discussions, Lou pointed out that there 4 different types of authors.

  1. You are unconsciously bad – These are the enthusiastic, wide-eyed writers that say to themselves, “I can write better than some of those idiots I’ve been reading.” They had no idea what it really takes to be an effective author. They write something, think it’s wonderful, and are clueless about all of the rookie mistakes they make.
  2. You are consciously bad – This is when you finally wake up and realize that masterpiece you wrote is crap. You try to justify the decisions you made along the way but are confronted with the reality that you just aren’t there yet.
  3. You are consciously good – This is when you take the lessons you’ve learned from your own experience and hopefully the guidance of others and begin the grueling work and grinding out perfect sentence after perfect sentence creating a narrative that engages the reader and motivates them to anxiously await the next paragraph in your story.
  4. You are unconsciously good – You use your natural talents and experience to crank out beautiful prose while barely breaking a sweat. Or you might sweat over every decision and doubt yourself while suffering from a serious case of imposter syndrome without realizing that you are creating something brilliant.

Lou would probably describe himself as consciously good as would David although David is in most circumstances very decidedly unconsciously good. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) I’m making that horrible transition between unconsciously bad and consciously bad. With guidance from David, Lou, and others I have been able to reevaluate my work so far and now realize much of what has gone wrong.

I believe I’ve come up with some reasonably interesting concepts for a story. I believe my characters are reasonably well-developed. There are brief moments of brilliance scattered throughout my work. But there are some fundamental problems that I’ve discovered along the way and while reflecting upon those issues, I began to realize I heard the story before.

Some of the mistakes I’ve been making are incredibly similar to common engineering mistakes that Elon Musk describes as his philosophy for efficient engineering. He proposes 5 steps to creating an effective and efficient product. He outlines these five steps in an interview with YouTuber Tim Dodd a.k.a. “The Everyday Astronaut – bringing space down to earth for everyday people.” See the link here https://youtu.be/t705r8ICkRw

Here is my summary of Musk’s approach to engineering. After outlining these steps, I will explain how I believe it relates to being an effective writer.

  1. Make the requirements less dumb – As an engineering student, you don’t get the opportunity to take this step. Your instructor gives you requirements for a gadget that you have to design, engineer, and build. You don’t get the opportunity to say to your professor, “This is a bad starting premise. We don’t need this device.” But in the real world, the first step is to question your basic design assumptions.
  2. Delete the part – If you’re not putting back 10% of the things you deleted then you are not deleting enough. This ties into that first step because it may be the part that you are being asked to create shouldn’t exist in the first place.
  3. Optimize – Don’t waste time optimizing something that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Too much time is wasted optimizing unnecessary steps. Wait to optimize until you’re sure you really have what you want.
  4. Accelerate cycle times – Go faster. Time is money.
  5. Automate – He often says it’s more difficult to build the machine that builds the machine than it is to design the product itself.

In the video, he tells about times when he did the steps in the wrong order. He tried to automate, accelerate, and optimize a part or process that wasn’t really necessary in the first place.

So… What does this have to do with storytelling? I’ve been making mistakes 1 and 2. I have a tendency to be long-winded (as you have seen already in this essay). I began to realize that you don’t need to put in all of your backstories. It’s good to have those details in your mind, but if they get in the way of telling the story that you want to tell and interrupt the flow or the emotional beats of your narrative then you ruin the process.

The challenge for me going forward is to discern when some of those theoretically nonessential details effectively add to the atmosphere of the story but are not intrusive to the storytelling itself.

For example in one of my stories, a teenage girl in trouble walks into a legal clinic seeking help. How important is it that I describe the building? Should I give a description of the neighborhood, its history, and its character? What about a description of the receptionist behind the desk? She only appears in 2 paragraphs. So, perhaps I delete these details and then later conclude that the story could use a little more atmosphere and so I put some of them back in.

I also tend to summarize something that has just happened. While repetition and summation can be valuable teaching tools when writing something educational, it doesn’t lend itself well to storytelling. I need to delete my summaries. Let the reader draw their own conclusions.

So I’ve learned a few lessons along the way… What do I do next? Perhaps my stories can be salvaged if I make my writing more focused. Stop summarizing. Delete extraneous detail especially when it interrupts the flow. Perhaps it’s time to move on to step 3 and start optimizing. Carefully examine each and every sentence and each and every word within the sentence to make sure it’s the best you can do.

I asked myself, “Can my previous stories be salvaged? Sure, I’ve run out of markets to which I can submit them. But if I’m going to self-publish a collection of my work as was my plan, if there’s something I can fix in these rejected stories then I ought to do so.”

The problem is… I didn’t do step one. This is what Musk has really taught me and provided the impetus to write this essay.

In my discussions with Lou and others, I’ve found myself saying things like, “But that’s the story I wanted to write.” Lou admired me for standing up for those choices and said that ultimately it’s my story and I should tell the story I want to tell. However, I’m trying to justify some of the choices I made without really questioning those choices to begin with. Perhaps my design requirements are dumb.

The first two stories I wrote were supposed to be part of a trilogy in which I explored the origin stories of classic sci-fi technology. There are certain technologies that are common to futuristic literature but it seemed to me that we rarely get origin stories for these technologies. How did we get from here to there? Who invented these technologies? What was the immediate impact of their introduction? That’s what I wanted to explore in my first attempts at fiction.

The three most common sci-fi technologies that I identified were:

  1. Some sort of clean, green, inexpensive energy source. In my case, I wrote the story of a guy who perfected cold nuclear fusion.
  2. Some sort of gravity control. Hop in your shuttle craft, push a button, and it floats off the ground without the roar of engines. a.k.a. flying cars. I wrote a story of how a spacecraft that could fly that way would be able to do things that traditional rocket-powered spacecraft could not do.
  3. Some sort of faster-than-light drive. I came up with a unique FTL concept that while technically impossible, was more credible than your typical FTL/hyperspace/warp drive.

That’s not a bad concept for a series of stories, but I let those concepts get in the way of telling an interesting story. The first story turned out to be the biography of Eddie Tillman, the inventor of cold fusion. And while I believe I created an interesting character, there is no conflict. The only conflict is his ambition to get the job done. Without conflict, you don’t really have a story. Also, I didn’t really do what I set out to do which was to explore the impact of his invention. The story was already too long so I quit once he invented it.

The problem with the story is that it had too dumb a requirement to begin with. I missed Musk’s step 1.

The sequel explored the invention of gravity control by Eddie’s wife Julie. The technology was used by their astronaut daughter Teresa to fly a spacecraft to the ISS to rescue stranded astronauts after an accident. It illustrated that without the technology described, the rescue would have been impossible. Unlike the first story, it had drama, adventure, danger, and excitement. I think Teresa was a pretty interesting and well-drawn character. The problem was, the first quarter of the story was spent tying it into the overall Tillman family history and talking about the invention of the gravity control before getting on with the interesting story of the rescue. There was too much extraneous detail about the history of the development of the technology that led up to the rescue itself.

My design premises were too dumb.

I only got about 4000 words into the third story in which Theresa’s husband Thomas was going to invent a new kind of FTL. I gave up when I realized it was a boring biography in the same way that the first installment was.

I can’t fix the first story without totally rewriting it. However, I love the portrait of the character Eddie too much to throw the story away completely. It’s simply going to have to stand flaws and all as the history of my insufficient first attempt. And it’s not really that bad. In discussing the story with David, he pointed out the similarities to Citizen Kane about an obsessed person driven to success when his only real happiness was to return to the joys of his childhood. I haven’t written anything remotely close to that quality, but the premise is not as flawed as I originally realized. Note David did not read the story.

Teresa’s rescue story can be fixed if I throw out the back story. Focus on the interesting rescue itself with only mild references to Teresa’s life story perhaps with a very stripped-down flashback.

So I’ve learned a lot and some of it came from Elon Musk.

Sure you have to tell the story want to tell, but don’t be afraid to question your basic assumptions. Don’t be afraid to delete extraneous detail. Only optimize your work after you’ve done steps 1 and 2.

The analogy starts to break down with steps 4 and 5. Step 4 is to go faster. Really it’s about time management and David had some great insights about how to become a more disciplined writer. You need to set aside time every day to write something just to exercise your writing muscles. You only get better through practice.

Step 5 is to automate the process. I suppose that’s what someone prolific like James Patterson does. He writes an outline and then hands it off to a team of his protégés who do most of the writing. Or perhaps at this point, he doesn’t even write the outline. He just lends his famous name to other people’s work in exchange for a percentage of the income. He has turned himself into a brand that cranks out massive amounts of work that is only partially his own effort. Unless you want to be James Patterson, I suggest you skip that step.

One other piece of engineering advice he offers in the video I linked above is to eliminate in-process testing. When you are first working out production issues, you need to have lots of testing to find out where the problems are. But once you’ve got a process running smoothly, don’t bother testing things that are unlikely to break. I suppose the analogy for writing is that there is a tendency to try to optimize things as you go. It’s more efficient to get that first draft hammered out and let the ideas flow freely without getting bogged down into fixing little details along the way. Debug your process later. Just get the ideas on the page and then polish them later.

Elon Musk is an eccentric, deeply flawed person who for better or worse has amassed phenomenal wealth. Some of that wealth has gone to the betterment of the world. Some of it has been squandered pursuing his own egotistical purposes. I can’t recommend you emulate him in most areas. But there is much to learn from his engineering expertise. I hope I can find ways to implement these ideas to make me a better writer.

Your mileage may vary.

My Opinion on Abortion

I originally wrote this blog a day or so after the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe leaked. I decided against posting it until I had time to reflect more. I concluded I would wait to release it until the actual decision was official. Here are my thoughts.

I’ve wanted to write this blog post for many years and I’ve hesitated to do so because I’m certain that many of my friends whose opinions, beliefs, and values I deeply respect will likely disagree with what I’m about to say. I need to get some things off my chest on the issue of abortion..

One of the reasons I’ve hesitated to express my views on the topic is that there is a large group of people who hold the position that as a man, I don’t get an opinion on this issue. I acknowledge that part of the problem is that men have been imposing their views on the subject for centuries. I recognize that men do not have as much of a deeply vested interest in the issue as women. But as a person who considers themselves to have a strong moral character and as a person of faith, I don’t think I should be prohibited from holding opinions on the topic nor prohibited from expressing them. So while I don’t want to be seen as another man who’s trying to butt into something that’s none of his business, I’m simply expressing my thoughts on the topic. I’m not trying to impose my views on anyone.

In general, I don’t want to disparage anyone for their beliefs on the issue either. On the other hand, I am willing to point out what I believe are instances of hypocrisy and disingenuous beliefs by many people.

It’s not my intent to stereotype either side. I’m sure many pro-choice people will say, “Maybe lots of pro-choice people are that way but not me.” Similarly, many pro-life people can legitimately say, “Maybe that’s a lot of pro-life people but it’s not me.” As divided as the two camps are, I want to clearly acknowledge that there are differences of opinion and strategy within both groups. I’m not saying that either camp is homogenous in their beliefs. I’m talking in general, broad terms. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. In the end, these are just my opinions and my observations.

What I Believe

I do not believe that human life begins at conception.

Even though this is contrary to the official teaching of the Catholic Church and even though I deeply respect the Church’s views on the topic, I suppose I would have to say that is a matter of faith and it’s not a particular faith that I hold. I will later make some philosophical arguments why one might hold that human life begins at conception even though it’s not a position I hold myself. I would do so to point out the fact that I do understand the reasoning behind the view. I simply do not believe that that reasoning is sufficient to change my opinion.

My mom used to say, “As Mason said to Dixon…’ You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.’” For me, I always believed that the Supreme Court’s decision in both Roe and Casey that draws the line at viability is a reasoned argument.

During his initial presidential campaign, Barack Obama when asked, “When does life begin?” replied something to the effect of, “That’s above my pay scale.” When push comes to shove, I like his answer. But rather than avoiding the question completely. I agree with the original Supreme Court decisions on viability.

Apart from the question of when human life actually begins, I deeply disapprove of abortion on philosophical grounds in most cases. I do not believe however that aborting a pre-viable fetus is the murder of a human being. I don’t mean to trivialize this but if pushed to describe what I think about it, I would classify it as, “a really bad idea.”

There are lots of things in this world that are really bad ideas that are not in any way illegal. There are things that I would strongly advise people not to do. Things that I would not engage in myself. But these “really bad ideas” do not rise to the level where I think they ought to be regulated or that choices to do them should be imposed upon others. This has nothing to do with women’s rights or men making a decision for women. There are lots of really bad ideas that I don’t support but I don’t condemn people for doing them.

One of the problems with the abortion debate is that it is often framed as a binary issue. One absolutely must be either pro-choice or pro-life. The debate is framed in such a way that there cannot be any middle ground. That is unfair. This is a complicated issue. And I find myself sitting squarely on the fence. I think that abortion is a decision that women ought to make for themselves. And it is my belief that the best choice is not to abort.

So, one of the things that people probably will not like about this entire essay is that I’m not taking a stand firmly and absolutely on either side. The only concession I’ve ever heard in the countless hours of public discourse on the topic came recently from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) Minn. When asked by a journalist if she thought that being pro-choice was a litmus test for future Democratic candidates, she replied that she knowledged there were people who were personally opposed to abortion but were not willing to impose that belief on other people. In effect, she was talking about me. It was the first time in decades of debate that I’ve heard a public official acknowledge the acceptability of someone who did not have an absolute all-or-nothing approach to the topic.

Ignoring the Core Issue

The thing that troubles me the most about the abortion debate is the way that neither side seems to acknowledge the central issue. They misrepresent each other’s views. The very names of the two factions in the debate frame the discussion in such a way that avoids the central issue.

The central issue should only be, “When does human life begin?”

When one describes themselves as “pro-life” in opposition to the other camp, it misrepresents the other side as being opposed to the sanctity of human life which is not at all the case. I don’t know anyone on the pro-choice side of the issue who says, “Indeed human life begins at conception but women ought to be free to murder an innocent child for whatever reason they want.” No one who is pro-choice believes that abortion is murder. No one who is pro-choice disrespects the sanctity of human life. We know this because one of the major arguments of the pro-choice position is that allowing easy access to safe abortion will save women’s lives. So declaring someone as not being “pro-life” is a misrepresentation of the pro-choice position.

Both sides are legitimately pro-life but those who are opposed to abortion fail to acknowledge that. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone who is pro-choice stand up and say, “Yes I am pro-life but I disagree on when life begins.” They argue in favor of protecting the lives of women. But they won’t describe themselves as “pro-life” even though they are. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that most people who are on the liberal pro-choice side of the argument also oppose the death penalty which is a further indication that they respect human life. Sadly, that’s a statement we cannot make as broadly among conservative pro-life advocates. The Catholic Church has a doctrine called, “The consistent ethic of life” and they are as vehemently opposed to the death penalty as they are opposed to abortion. Would that this be true among more alleged pro-life people. Conservative opposition to common sense gun control, universal healthcare, and other social justice issues also call into the question the appropriateness of describing themselves as “pro-life”

Similarly, one would hope that those who are opposed to abortion, do believe in personal freedom and the ability to live one’s life as they wish and to make personal choices so long as it does not harm other people. Sadly, many people who oppose abortion also seek to impose their views in other areas such as homosexuality, the use of non-abortive birth control, and other personal choice issues. When at its core, if you don’t conflate issues, there is nothing about believing that human life begins at conception that necessarily makes you anti-choice.

The inability of either side to see the common ground inflames the passionate demonization of each side. I firmly believe that there could be more reasoned debate and deeper understanding and even healing if both sides would acknowledge that they are both inherently pro-life and pro-choice.

Again, it’s not about choice. It’s not about respecting life. It’s about defining when life begins. So much of the debate disregards what the debate is really about at its core and that is deeply disappointing to a rational person such as me who tries to respect the morality and humanity of everyone. Both sides of the debate are guilty of this issue.

Demonizing Pro-Choice

The pro-life side of the debate often does emphasize their belief that human life begins at conception. And you may think I’m crazy for saying this, but I don’t think they say it enough. Whenever asked a question about the issue, they ought to say, “Because we are firmly committed to the truth that human life begins at conception, we believe that [fill in the blank].”

When they argue against pro-choice, they tend to demonize the position portraying them as the murders of innocent children.Yet they never acknowledge that the pro-choice side sincerely, completely, and totally does not believe that abortion is murder. I would prefer that when describing the other side, pro-life people would say, “We acknowledge that people in the pro-choice movement sincerely do not believe that abortion is murder.” They can then go on to talk about how misguided that view is in their opinion. While it might come across as condescending, it is more accurate and less demonizing to say that someone is misguided in their belief than to betray them as heartless murderers. You could say, “Pro-choice people are people of deep moral conviction who are seriously wrong about the central issue of when life begins.” They could acknowledge that pro-choice people do not see themselves as murderers. You could acknowledge that a pro-choice person does indeed respect the sanctity of human life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen much if ever. I don’t want to hear prayer vigils that call for reversing Roe or for legislation outlawing abortion. I want to hear prayer vigils that people change their minds about when life begins.

Just once, I want to hear a reporter ask a pro-life person, “If you did not firmly believe that life begins at conception, would you find it cruel to force a woman to bear an unwanted child?” Similarly, I want reporters to ask pro-choice people, “If you were convinced that life began at conception, would you not agree that preserving that human is that life is more important than the personal choice of the woman who is carrying it?” We might find some common ground.

Ridicule of Pro-Choice

While the pro-life contingent demonizes pro-choice, pro-choice sadly often takes the stance of ridiculing the pro-life position. It is portrayed as absurd, ridiculous, dispassionate, and even ignorant. Some of it is rooted in the position that any religious belief is irrational and not to be taken seriously or respectfully. Liberals sometimes begrudgingly acknowledged that they respect people’s right to believe what they want to. They rightly point out that freedom of religion does not mean freedom to impose one’s religious views on others. However, much of the language and tone of the criticism leveled at pro-life is extremely condescending and couches the pro-life position as being irrational.

While it is true that the belief that human life begins at conception is a matter of faith, once you accept that a person’s belief is that life begins at conception, the pro-life argument is completely rational. I wish that the liberal position would acknowledge something along the lines of the following argument…

Suppose there was a law that nearly 70% of the population agreed to that said if, for some reason you didn’t want to raise your children, it was perfectly legal to murder them up until they were say one year old. One could argue that a one-year-old is incapable of sustaining their own life. In some ways without the support of another human being, it is not “viable.” The argument that “it’s my child and I can do with it whatever I want” would fall on deaf ears.

My guess is that liberals would not in any way shape or form support such a law. But they fail to knowledge that their moral outrage and revulsion at such a ridiculous idea is exactly the same as the moral outrage and revulsion that pro-life people have towards abortion.

Again, it’s a failure to recognize that both sides have the same sincere, deep-rooted respect for the sanctity of human life. If you really, really, really appreciated the idea that the debate is about when human life begins, then the pro-life position is just as morally upright as the pro-choice position. There is no basic difference in the morality of the two positions. Liberals fail to acknowledge that. Much of the derision that the left holds for the pro-life movement is a failure to understand or acknowledge that it really is (or ought to be) solely about when life begins.

If you truly believe that holding any religious belief is irrational, misguided, or ridiculous then have the courage to stand up and say so. Love him or hate him, comedian Bill Maher doesn’t hold back at all in his ridicule of any religious belief. I’m not saying that everyone who is pro-choice is anti-religion but many of their arguments against the pro-life movement are thinly veiled derision of religion and lack of respect for religious beliefs. I want to hear more acknowledgment from the left that the pro-life’s position is rational once one accepts the basic belief that life begins at conception. Go ahead and say, “You can’t impose your religious beliefs on me.” But don’t portray religious people as being ignorant, irrational, or dispassionate towards the plight of women unless they clearly are anti-women outside the abortion debate.

Hypocrisy of Pro-Choice

As I stated earlier, I’m not necessarily trying to change anyone’s opinion. I’m trying to be as fair and balanced as I can be. But I feel it necessary to point out what I believe is hypocrisy in the arguments from both sides. It’s going to be painfully obvious that I’m going to have more to say about the hypocrisy of pro-life than pro-choice. I’m sorry. That’s just the way I see it..

One of the things that disturbs me about the words “pro-choice” it seems that there are many women who choose abortion because they feel they have no other choice. On the liberal side of the debate, there seems to be a lot more energy expended on helping women choose abortion and not so much energy expended on helping women not choose abortion. In fairness, women’s right to choose not to have an abortion is not under attack. But I would feel much better about the liberal position they were more committed to promoting adoption. While the liberal stance is in support of things like childcare, equal pay for women, and other social justice issues that would make it easier for a woman to choose not to abort, there seems to be a fear on the part of the left that if they pay too much attention to helping women choose not to abort, that they will be branded as traitors to the cause for being too much “pro-life”.

In some ways, I’ve already covered some of the other hypocrisy of pro-choice. They tend to argue from a position of moral superiority and they ridicule the other side without acknowledging the morality and rationality behind much of the pro-life argument. And many, use their disdain for religion as part of the argument. Being mostly liberal myself, there may be other forms of hypocrisy that I am not sufficiently objective to realize. Sorry about that.

The Problem of Exceptions

One of the areas in which both sides show hypocrisy regards the issue of exceptions to abortion restrictions. The left tends to demonize pro-life for not allowing for exceptions. One of the problems is that pro-life is inconsistent in its views on exceptions. In many ways, the issue of exceptions is the biggest area of hypocrisy on the part of pro-life.

While the left demonizes the right for not allowing exceptions, in my opinion, if the right wanted to be logically consistent they would be even more inflexible about exceptions. If pro-life was really as pro-life as they claim to be, they would be even harsher on exceptions.

Let’s look at the exceptions one by one. Throughout this argument, we are going to take the position that human life begins at conception. After all, that’s my basic thesis that this is what the debate should be about.

The Life of the Mother

In my opinion if you really believe life begins at conception, then “the life of the mother” is the only, only, only acceptable exception in which abortion should be allowed. The rationale behind this is an argument for basic self-defense. Our common moral tradition is that one can defend one’s life with lethal force.

One of the things that muddies the water is that many times the phrasing of this exception is “the life or health of the mother.” That is lumping together two completely different things. If someone is going to make me sick, do I have the right to murder them in self-defense? I don’t think so.

The other problem with the “health” exception is that it is often undefinably broad. We need only look at the ease with which one can obtain medically necessary marijuana or a comfort companion pet to realize that it’s easy to get a doctor to sign off on lots of things based on one’s physical or mental well-being. That doesn’t mean I’m unsympathetic to the suffering that women go through during a problem pregnancy. It does not mean that I am unsympathetic to the emotional trauma that comes from having to endure nine months of pregnancy. But if one truly, truly, truly believes that human life begins at conception, is it morally justifiable to murder someone to protect your physical or mental health? If the health risks are extreme, severe, and reasonably likely to cause fatal harm then that’s different. And that goes for mental as well as physical health. If you are in such a mental state that the emotional trauma of a pregnancy credibly leads you to suicide then that is the life of the mother. Not the health of the mother.

Rape and Incest

First of all, let me acknowledge that I realize as a man I am uniquely incapable of understanding the trauma of these situations. No matter how sympathetic I try to be, it’s going to be insufficient. I know that. However, we are talking about what is or is not morally acceptable. Just because something is morally right doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, many issues of morality impose difficult and traumatic demands upon a person.

One of my biggest pet peeves about the entire abortion debate is lumping together the issues of rape and incest. Words have meaning. These are two entirely separate issues.

This is going to sound horrible but hear me out before you call me a monster.

Incest should never be an exception.

Let me explain. If adult close blood relatives conceive a child as a result of completely consensual sex, then there is no reason whatsoever that one should want to abort such a child.

”But wait a minute!” you will say. “Are you saying if an underage girl gets pregnant by her father, brother, uncle, or first cousin that she should not be able to abort the baby?” I did not say that at all. All of those scenarios are undeniably rape. They need to be acknowledged as rape even if they are consensual. “But”, you will argue, “Even if a girl is of legal age at 18 and consents to sex with a relative, it is likely that the power dynamic between the two in an incestuous relationship is wrong.” My response, “Yep… That’s rape and covered by the rape exception.”

I believe that lumping in incest with rape diminishes the fact that underage incest is rape and it fails to knowledge that as repugnant or taboo as we might feel a consensual incestuous relationship is, it is not rape. It is my opinion that consensual adult incest does not warrant an abortion. If one believes that human life begins at conception it certainly is not grounds to murder someone. And if someone believes as I do that abortion is simply a really bad idea it also is not grounds for abortion to be somehow a good idea.

“But wait a minute!” you will say. “What about the high probability of genetic abnormalities that comes from an incestuous conception?” I promise you I will address that in a later section.

Let’s get back to the topic of rape.

If we are going to take an absolute position that human life begins at conception, then you have to ask yourself, although rape is a horrible, unspeakable, unimaginable tragedy, does the fact that one is a product of rape make it justifiable to murder you. Forcing a woman to carry a child is a product of rape does indeed compound the pain and horror of the original experience and forces it to be lived continuously for nine months. But does the radically immoral act of rape justify the murder of an innocent human being? Most decidedly no.

It is a tragedy upon a tragedy upon a tragedy that a woman should have to suffer through such a pregnancy. But the murder of an innocent life compounds that tragedy even further.

If pro-life people were as pro-life as they claim to be. They would allow no such exception.

In a recent interview, Republican Gov Asa Hutchinson of Mississippi was asked about the fact that a restrictive abortion law he recently signed had no exceptions for rape or incest. In response, he reiterated his belief that human life begins at conception. Way to go governor. But then he said that he believed the issue of exceptions was still open to debate and strongly implied that he would support exceptions for rape and incest. Not out of sympathy for the victims of such crimes because of political expediency. He felt that it would be easier to get abortion restrictions passed if there were such exceptions. Given a choice between no restrictions on abortions and abortion restrictions with exceptions, it would reduce the number of abortions and to him that was acceptable.

My reaction to that was… “You fucking hypocrite!”

You can’t have it both ways. Either abortion is murder or it isn’t. Let’s go back to the example of the one-year-old. Suppose a rape victim carries the baby to term. The baby is born and after six months the mother decides they can’t stand it. Can they murder the baby because it prolongs the trauma of their rape? Is that justifiable homicide?

While I would have more respect for a radically pro-life person who had no exceptions except for the life of the mother (self-defense) and I would find their positions more logically self-consistent and not hypocritical if they would stick to their no exceptions policy, many of these idiots have had God awful ways of expressing that. Most notably are those who have said something along the lines of, “If a woman gets pregnant from a rape is God’s will.” Holy fucking shit! It’s no wonder that the left makes fun of the religious beliefs of such people.

Couldn’t you just say that the tragedy of rape should not be compounded by the tragedy of murder on top of that? Do you have to be so insanely tone deaf to imply that rape is God’s will? Not only do inarticulate and insensitive pro-life people damage their position and the movement through bad theology such as “it was God’s will she was raped“ they also engage in blatantly unscientific arguments such as “you can’t get pregnant from rape.” It takes a lot of ignorance to espouse bad theology and bad science at the same time but unfortunately, many politicians do.

If the left wants to be critical of the no exceptions policy, they need to say something like, “I understand that the pro-life people believe that abortion is murder and I understand that they believe that a child conceived of rape does not justify the murder of an innocent child. However, the pro-life movement seems insensitive to the plight of rape victims. I do not believe that life begins at conception and therefore that is why am in favor of abortion on demand and especially in the instances of rape.” But they don’t do that. Instead, they make fun of their religion. And in some respects, because the pro-life people are so inarticulate in expressing their position and so insensitive to the plight of rape victims that they hurt their own case irreparably. These radically insensitive inarticulate people besmirch the entire pro-life movement.

In all of the above I’ve been arguing from a radically inflexible position that life begins at conception and as I said at the beginning of the essay I do not hold that position. I explained my personal position that almost all abortion falls under that wimpy category of “a really bad idea.” In the instance of rape, given my total inability to understand or appreciate the trauma of a woman who has experienced such a tragedy believe I could give my wholehearted support to someone who wanted an abortion under such circumstances. If there is anything that turns abortion from a really bad idea into an acceptable idea, it’s the issue of rape. That’s my personal view.

Nazi Level Shit

In a science fiction story that I’ve not yet been able to get published, part of the story is of a young girl whose parents want to force her to have an abortion because of a unique genetic issue with the child. I won’t spoil the story by telling you what it was. In pleading her case before a judge, she says, “They are saying that people like me and my baby don’t have the right to exist. That’s some Nazi level shit!” While some people will argue that an old straight cisgender guy has no business trying to tell the story of a pregnant teenager with gender identity issues… the girl in the story is quoting me when she says that.

My disability is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2. It is a genetic neuromuscular disease. It is possible to do amniocentesis and detect whether or not an unborn child will have SMA. I know for a fact that there are people who have done such genetic testing and based on the results have decided to terminate the pregnancy rather than give birth to a disabled child.

While I support a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy and while I have a general dislike for abortion and wish that women would not choose it, in the case of this particular type of abortion I cannot help but take a firmer stance. I take such things quite personally.

My disability is an integral part of me. While one might say, “What would my life be like if I had not had a spinal cord injury?” Or, “What if I had not suffered brain damage during a difficult childbirth resulting in cerebral palsy?” Or as was the case with many of my classmates who were slightly older than me, “What if I had not contracted polio resulting in my disability?” But one cannot say, “What would Chris Young be like if he didn’t have SMA?” In the case of a genetic disease, you cannot separate the person from the condition. You can treat the condition. Possibly come up with a medical cure. But Chris Young without SMA just can’t exist.

In general I don’t like abortion but I am much more likely to accept someone who aborts a child simply because they don’t want children, can’t afford them, it ruins their career or any number of reasons, then I could accept the idea of abortion based on genetic differences.

That’s some Nazi level shit.

I do however need to be fair in my portrayal of people who typically abort children with SMA. In the cases that I know of personally, these are couples who have already had a child born with SMA. They are typically SMA Type 1 which is considerably more severe than my Type 2. Up until recently, the life expectancy of a child with SMA Type 1 was under two years. Having already lost a child to the disease and faced with the possibility of having another child and losing them, they instead choose to abort. In other words, “let’s kill it now because it’s going to die eventually.” I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy of losing a child under any circumstances and I completely understand the desire not to suffer that tragedy again. However, I cannot condone such selective breeding. I find it not only personally insulting to me and people like me but I find it dehumanizing. It turns human beings into breeding stock.

The situation is even more complicated in that although prenatal testing can determine whether or not a child will have SMA, it cannot predict whether or not they will have the more severe Type 1 or a less severe Type 2 like I have or the even less severe Type 3. Furthermore, there are now treatments for SMA that if administered to newborns can in many cases allow them to grow up completely unaffected by the disease.

Despite my claims of Nazi-ism, I don’t condemn parents in that particular situation but I pray that they find other ways to enjoy the joys of parenthood without engaging in selective breeding. On the other hand, given the potential for abuse, there undoubtedly will be other people who choose to abort over other genetic issues that do not involve fatal disabilities. I cannot condone aborting a boy if you wanted a girl or vice versa. Do we abort blue-eyed kids or brown-haired kids or other trivial unwanted conditions? It’s a slippery slope.

That brings us back to the issue of consensual incest. Incestuous conception runs a high risk of genetic abnormalities as a result of doubling up recessive genetic traits. Whether we take the “human life begins at conception” objection to abortion or the “really bad idea” objection, I can’t condone aborting children based on the probability (or even the absolute certainty revealed by prenatal testing) of a genetic condition. Someone who engages in consensual incest and is unaware of the risks is behaving irresponsibly but that doesn’t justify abortion in my opinion. If human life does begin at conception, genetic abnormalities should not be grounds for murder.

A Rational, Non-Religious Argument That Human Life Begins at Conception

While we are discussing genetics, I want to put forth what I believe is a rational, non-religious, argument for the position that human life begins at conception. First, let’s look at a rather ridiculous and spurious argument against the idea.

Some pro-choice people take the view that it is ridiculous to afford human rights to a single fertilized ovum. They go on to speculate that why should we stop there? That every sperm and unfertilized ovum a potential human being to be regarded the same rights? The epitome of this stance was the satirical song by Monty Python “Every Sperm is Sacred.”

While many religious traditions are opposed to masturbation, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone who is pro-life who seriously wants to extend human rights to every sperm.

So what is the difference between unfertilized zygotes and a fertilized cell? The difference is the completeness of genetics. If I ever get around to writing my autobiography, I already know with the opening line is going to be.

Whether or not you believe I was a human being at the time, it was at the moment of my conception that it was determined that I would have the genetic neuromuscular disease known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. That fact is influenced every aspect of my entire life in a unique way. It is an integral inseparable part of me.

It is at conception a unique combination of a single sperm with a single ova that defines us uniquely as the human being that we will come to be. Obviously, not everything that happens in our life is determined by genetics. But that part of us that makes us unique individuals begins at that moment.

I think it’s a pretty good argument. It doesn’t rely on “The church says so” or “My interpretation of the Bible says so.” It is probably more philosophy than science but there is a great deal of science involved in the argument. It is at the root of my opposition to abortion for purposes of selective breeding.

For me personally, it does not rise to the level of “abortion is murder.”

Is It a War on Women?

Part of me wants to be disturbed when the left characterizes the abortion debate as a “war on women.” The main problem is, that there a are number of men and women whom I love and respect who are very decidedly pro-life and are in no way misogynistic or anti-woman.

The prime example is my late mother. Sometime in the mid-1960s before Roe in 1973 and before it was commonplace to be politically active on the issue of abortion, my mom testified before the state legislature in support of an abortion ban. My family has been described as a perfect poster child for pro-life (although we’ve never been on a poster).That comment was made one Sunday when I, my mother, my grandmother, my sister Carol, and Carol’s daughter Britney presented the gifts at the offertory of a mass at St. Gabriel on Respect Life Sunday one time. I was born with a genetic disability and we’ve already established that some people consider that grounds for abortion. My mother gave birth to five other children after me all of which were born premature and none of which lived more than 48 hours. After that experience, we adopted my sister Carol through a Catholic adoption agency. Her biological mother could have chosen to abort her but did not. Carol’s daughter Britney (as well as 2 more daughters that would come later) were all born out of wedlock. Finally my grandmother Helen Osterman was approaching age 90 and had been chronically ill for the last five years of her life. I can’t speak for the rest of them, but my pro-life beliefs come not because the Catholic Church tells me so but because it resonates in my life and my family. Nothing about our pro-life stance is in any way disrespectful towards women.

I’m offended when pro-life is equated with misogyny.

As stated earlier, neither the sincere belief that human life begins at conception nor the less stringent belief that abortion is a bad intrinsically requires one to be opposed to women’s rights.

Sadly, it is painfully obvious that that is not the case in a large portion of the pro-life movement especially when it comes to male politicians. The fact that organizations like Planned Parenthood have only a small percentage of their activities related to abortion and the fact that federal money that goes to such organizations cannot and is not used for abortion services does not stop people from trying to destroy such organizations. The vast majority of the work of Planned Parenthood is dedicated to women’s health yet the pro-life advocates want to destroy the organization.

One somewhat valid argument goes something like this… If a neo-Nazi group or a KKK chapter was running a woman’s health clinic, even if they didn’t perform abortions would you be in favor of funding their health clinics considering their abhorrent positions in other areas? Of course not? So the fact that 95% of what Planned Parenthood does is not related to abortion, do we want to implicitly endorse an organization that murders children? Crazy as it seems, it’s not a bad argument.

Here’s the problem… If I was a rich white male politician with varied business interests who was legitimately pro-life and not anti-women, I would open up a string of women’s health clinics that provided all of the same non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood. I would suck away all of the government funding from Planned Parenthood into my little side business of taking care of women’s health because for me I don’t hate women. I just hate abortion. If that was the case… I would understand and appreciate the legitimacy of their opposition to Planned Parenthood.

But no one has done that. And for me, that is the real proof that a disturbingly large segment of the pro-life contingent is indeed inducting a war on women’s rights and women’s health. Part of the problem is that Planned Parenthood supports birth control. And although the Catholic Church is opposed to artificial birth control, most evangelical denominations on the religious right who are allegedly pro-life have no problem with birth control on moral grounds. However, that only applies to married women. To them, providing women’s health services is somehow condoning a promiscuous lifestyle. Even if it’s not about birth control, Planned Parenthood serves mostly poor people. And the conservatives cannot help themselves but look at poor women, especially single mothers (even if they chose not to have an abortion), and blame them for their condition. They are completely unsympathetic to the needs of such women.

Again, my proof that this is the case is the fact that no one has opened up a string of women’s health clinics that do everything except abortion.

I’m not painting the entire pro-life movement in these broad strokes. People like my mother and my family are not small exceptions to the rule of misogyny. There are lots of pro-life people who are supportive of women’s rights that do not have anything to do with abortion. But there are way too many male decision-makers and even some holier than now women who stereotype those who are in need of women’s health services as sluts. These same people are opposed to universal healthcare of any kind, oppose other social service programs such as food stamps, welfare, and disability programs, and are especially unsympathetic to immigration issues.

These are all Christian values that they ignore yet they are supported by religious fundamentalists simply because they claim to be pro-life. Such hypocrisy is a grave disservice the to the legitimate cause of a pro-life philosophy.

One of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain”. While many people interpret that to mean that you should not swear using God’s name, I’ve always understood it to mean that you should not call yourself Christian and then act otherwise. All you do is give legitimacy to those who say that all religious people are hypocrites. You damage the brand.

It is disturbing to me how little of the pro-life movement focuses its energy on helping women to keep their babies and to have the economic stability to raise them. In the same way that pro-choice focus not so much on helping women choose not to abort, the pro-life side expands a disproportionate amount of their energy on legislating against abortion rather than supporting the needs of women who choose not to abort. There is an attitude that once the baby is born, they have saved an innocent life and their work is done. I’m not saying everyone who is pro-life has that attitude but it is way too prevalent.

Pro-Life Self Delusion

I hate to beat up on one side more than the other. However, there is one more criticism and I have to level at a large piece of the pro-life movement.

I don’t think they are as pro-life as they claim to be. I’m not talking about the hypocrites who oppose women’s health services or any of the other disingenuous things that I described above. I’m talking about people who sincerely claim to be pro-life and sincerely claim that they firmly believe that human life begins at conception. But their actions are disproportionately insufficient to illustrate the sincerity of that belief.

Let’s go back to the example of the hypothetical law that would allow one to murder an unwanted child up until the age of 12 months. If such a law existed, what would be your response? Would you sit idly by and hold prayer vigils? Would you peacefully protest? Would you debate and advocate for your position or would you take action to save innocent lives?

I can in no way endorse violence. I don’t think blowing up abortion clinics is the answer or committing violence against those who participate in such facilities is appropriate. Then again, let’s take another hypothetical. Suppose it was a country that has a law permitting the murder of children up to a certain age. Would we go to war against that country? If not war, what about significant economic sanctions? Wouldn’t we do anything possible to prevent such an atrocity?

I think what I’m saying is that I have a deeper respect for those who picket up and down outside abortion clinics, chain themselves to the doors, and engage in other nonviolent acts of civil disobedience.

When I looked at my own beliefs against abortion, I realized that my opposition did not rise to the level of extreme acts of civil disobedience, constant protest, constant statements of radical outrage, and other extreme measures consistent with what I might do if one-year-olds were being slaughtered for no legitimate purpose simply because it’s what a woman chose to do.

So, I had a choice. Because I wasn’t sufficiently outraged that abortion on demand occurs in this country as a matter of law, it either meant that I was morally deficient for not caring or it meant that I really did not believe that a pre-viable fetus was a human being. After considerable self-reflection over the course of decades contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church which I love and respect, I concluded it was the latter.

When I see people whom I love and respect who are decidedly pro-life and respectful of human rights and claim that they believe that human life begins at conception yet I do not see a reasonable expression of their outrage over abortion and I do not see action consistent with that level of outrage, I have to wonder do they really believe there is no difference between a pre-viable fetus and a human being which has been born? My guess is, subconsciously, they feel there is a difference. Deep down they do not believe that a fetus is a human being. If they did, they would be doing a lot more about it.

I’m not sitting in judgment of such people especially because I once was one.

I’m inviting them to look inside themselves as I did and see if they can find within themselves what I found within me. It is possible to be considerably, morally, opposed to abortion without the necessity to impose that belief on others because abortion is not really murder?

That’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves.

Is This The “United” States?

I’m not saying we all have to agree on everything. Disagreement and civilized debate is at the heart of American democracy. The reason I asked if we are “united” is the entire issue of states’ rights.

As I write this, a draft decision of the Supreme Court has been leaked and in all likelihood, Roe will be overturned. (I decided not to release this blog until the decision actually was really official.) The wording of that decision claims that it only applies to abortion yet the logic behind the decision is that there is nothing in the Constitution that specifically allows for abortion. Furthermore, the illegality of abortion has a long and ancient tradition. This implies that other rights such as interracial marriage, gay marriage, extramarital sex, and the use of birth control as well as other personal privacy rights which are not explicitly in the Constitution could be overturned as well.

Now that the draft document is finalized, it will be up to the individual states to decide whether or not abortion should be legal. The entire issue of states rights has always been a pet peeve of mine. I always believed I lived in the “United” States. I’ve especially experienced this problem when it comes to other social justice issues most notably healthcare and programs for people with disabilities. Depending on what state you live in, the kinds of programs and services that are available to you are inconsistent from state to state. Not only am I frustrated by states’ rights but by the entire issue of “local control” especially when it comes to school districts. At least in Indiana, and probably elsewhere, public schools are funded by property taxes. That means that poor inner-city school districts have less funding than more affluent suburban school districts. The quality of education that you receive depends upon your ZIP Code and the socioeconomic status of that ZIP Code.

One does not have to study history very deeply to understand that the issue of states’ rights and local control is deeply rooted in racism. It doesn’t take much of a leap to conclude that the variability of access to abortion once the decision goes back to the states will indeed have a racial component to it. And if not race, certainly socioeconomic status.

It saddens me to say this, but I would not be at all surprised if the United States of America is heading towards a second Civil War. The gullibility of American voters was amply demonstrated with the election of and the continued support for Donald Trump. The hypocrisy and lack of shame of mainstream Republican leadership will inevitably exploit the gullibility of the American public.

Russia didn’t interfere in our elections. The lack of respect for provable truth, common decency, the rule of law, and the willingness of unprincipled people to exploit it is what ruined our elections and threatens to do even more damage to democracy in the near future.

If such a Civil War happens, there will be those who blame it on abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice factions will continue to demonize one another and blame one another for the divisions in our country. And much of that will be because both sides failed to acknowledge what it is that they genuinely disagree about and they failed to acknowledge those on both sides of the debate who have a strong moral center and commitment to human rights.

It makes me sad.

One Last Disclaimer

One final time I want to reiterate that not everyone on either side of this debate is guilty of the accusations that I make. If you are offended by how I characterized either side, don’t presume I was talking about you unless you are guilty of my accusations.

Peace be with you.

A Memorable Week Before Memorial Day

I recently spent two nights in St. Vincent Hospital and the events were complicated enough that I think it requires a blog post rather than a quickie Facebook message. Not exactly the epic sagas I have written about previous hospital visits but certainly one outside my usual experience.Wherever you see this Facebook icon it is a link to a Facebook post I made at the time. All of my posts are public so you don’t need to be my Facebook friend or a Facebook user at all to read them.


On perhaps four or five occasions over the past several months, I developed a pain underneath my tongue on the right side. Something was irritating my saliva gland. It was a stinging, burning sensation that could be quite uncomfortable. Typically, however, it would last a few hours at most half a day, and then would disappear for weeks.

Sometime either Sunday night May 22 or Monday the 23rd I had another appearance of this pain. I woke up Monday morning with some unrelated hip and leg pain severe enough that rather than take Tylenol, I broke into my stash of Tramadol which I have been prescribed for back and hip pain. I use the Tramadol about once or twice a month at most. One of the side effects of the drug is that it makes my mouth very dry. If my saliva gland was swollen, this side effect would be beneficial.

My pain was under control Monday without taking any extra doses although I think I might’ve done some Tylenol later in the day. The mouth pain continued Tuesday and Tylenol was sufficient to keep me happy. When I woke up with continued pain Wednesday morning I do I had to do something. I went to the Tramadol again and tried calling my Ear/Nose/Throat doctor. I really wanted to get to see someone today because the rain that morning was supposed to lift but it would be much more rain Thursday and Friday. If I couldn’t get in to see a doctor I would just go to the MedCheck on Main St. in Speedway which I have been to very many times… mostly for UTI problems.

I called my ENT and after navigating the voice menus I would have had to leave a message at the scheduling desk. I wanted answers quicker so I hung up and called my primary care doctor. I got a live person at scheduling and although my doctor did not have anything available, one of his associates had an opening at 12:30 p.m. so I grabbed it.

One of the complications of my disability is that all of my joints are contracted including my jaw. My mouth barely opens at all. It’s extremely difficult to brush the inside of my teeth. I have a tiny toothbrush that I use as best I can but it is still difficult to get to the inside surfaces. My dentist has always said, “It’s a good thing all of your cavities have been on the outside. I don’t know what we would do if I had to give you a filling on your inner side.”

The doctor gave me a Covid test and a strep throat test both of which were negative. She was unable to see inside my mouth under my tongue. If she had had a dental mirror she might have had more luck. In fact, I considered calling my dentist instead of a doctor. If you pressed underneath my chin in the area of the gland, you can tell it was a little puffy and it was tender to the touch. She prescribed amoxicillin and sent me on my way. I was happy with that realizing it was the most we could do. I think I might have taken some Tylenol later in the day but I got through Wednesday okay.

The crisis begins

I woke up Thursday morning with terrible pain. I later told the doctors on a scale of 1-10 this was a solid five. I immediately went to the Tramadol and made the decision to stay in bed. I had my home health aide get me cleaned up and fresh underwear but I did not get dressed.

I suffered a good 45 minutes until the drug kicked in. About five hours later I decided I needed more Tramadol. With the exception of occasions in the hospital after my trach surgery, I had never taken Tramadol more than once a day.

I called my primary doctor again to ask what I should do now that the pain was worse. They said, “If it gets worse call us.” They never returned my call.”

One other bit of excitement, Barb had been in the hospital for a few days with anemia problems. She came home Thursday morning. We often joke that we take turns going to the hospital but we really didn’t think I would be going out to the hospital the evening after she came home.

I had been telling people on Facebook about my mouth problems. I posted this message on Facebook telling people Barb was okay home and I was feeling worse.

Around 5 PM I was still feeling miserable. After lying in bed all day I knew to roll over on my side for a while. I wasn’t sure how long I would want to be that way so I had Barb pull up a chair and sit with me. She likes to listen to audiobooks and she asked if I mind if she turned one on. I said okay. It was some fantasy story about vampires versus werewolves. I’m more of a hard sci-fi fan. Not so much fantasy. However, this story wasn’t bad and I sort of got into it.

After about a half hour I decided to roll back onto my back. The entire time I was debating if I should go to the hospital.

A new symptom suddenly arose. I realized that my tongue was starting to swell. When I rolled onto my back, it became more apparent that this was serious. My head was in a different position lying on my back and it became extremely difficult to talk. I told Barb what was going on and said, “I’m going to the hospital.”

Unfortunately, ambulance trips to the hospital or becoming a bit routine around here. We have a large canvas plastic coated mat with straps on the side that the hospital used one time to transport me on and off my bed. They let me keep it and it’s been very useful for ambulance transport. We put the mat underneath me and I feel a lot safer having the ambulance people dragging me around on it rather than just lifting me or using a sheet with no handles. An additional part of our routine preparation for 911 transport is that we have to remove my wheelchair, my Hoyer lift, and bedside table from my bedroom so that they could bring in the gurney. I also made sure to grab my iPhone and stuff it in my undershirt.

Somewhere along the way I’ve managed to click out a quick message on my iPad to Facebook saying “Going to the ER.

Carol was at work at her new job at the fairgrounds and would not be home until after 10 PM. We were confident I would be admitted so Josh agreed to transport my ventilator which I would need. We had previously been able to persuade private ambulances who brought me home to transport the vent but we had never been able to get the 911 people to transport the vent with me.

We wrestled me onto the mat and by this time my tongue was so swollen, that it was getting difficult to breathe. I have a trach with a device called a Passy-Muir speaking valve. It allows me to breathe in through the trach but then it closes when I exhale so that air could come out over my vocal cords and out my mouth. I could also breathe out my nose but my nose was stuffy that day. So I could breathe in but could not breathe out and it became impossible to talk. At one point we had to remove the valve so I could catch my breath by breathing fully in and out of the trach. Of course without the valve in, I could not talk.

I finally realized if we propped up my shoulders with a pillow so that my head would lean way back, we could leave in the valve and I could talk with difficulty. Normally when we call an ambulance I do the talking to the 911 operator. Barb has a slight tendency to ramble under such circumstances and not get straight to the point but I had no choice but to let her do the talking.

When you call 911 the first thing they ask for is of course your location. Through experience, I know that the ambulance is handled by the fire dispatcher. If you give them medical history without getting to the point that you need an ambulance, you end up wasting time talking to the wrong person. So we have learned that the first thing I should say is, “I need ambulance transport.” Then they immediately switch you to the fire dispatcher and you can give them the info. This time, after giving the address, the 911 operator immediately asked, “police or ambulance?” I don’t know if they changed procedures or if my address came up with a history of ambulance runs for both me and Barb that perhaps they correctly guessed was going to be an ambulance.

Barb still rambled a bit without getting straight to the point but it wasn’t too bad. I always feel like you have to prioritize your information with the most important stuff first. The fact that I was bedridden wasn’t as important as why I was needing the ambulance.

Among the things she said was that I had difficulty breathing. Usually, we are careful to say that this is a non-emergency. The operator said they would be here quickly, with lights and sirens. After Barb hung up she said, “I forgot to say non-emergency.” At the time I had my valve out and could not tell her I was glad. I was beginning to realize this really was an emergency. The thought crossed my mind that if I did not already have a trach, I would be dying right now.

Both fire rescue and ambulance arrived quickly. I had my head tilted back as far as I could we put the valve in when they arrived so I could talk. It was a bit chaotic in my bedroom with two paramedics, a couple of firefighters, and Barb all talking at once. At one point I had to yell, “Will everybody please shut the fuck up so I can tell you what’s going on. I don’t know how long I can talk!”

My mind was racing trying to prioritize information because I didn’t know how long I might be able to continue to communicate. I explained what was going on and that when they transferred me to the gurney we would have to immediately prop up my shoulders again and get my head tilted back as far as possible. We showed the EMT how to take out and put in the valve so that I could talk briefly and then catch my breath. He caught on quickly and was able to do so throughout the ride to the hospital. I’ve made sure that he explained thoroughly so the nurses how important this was and that once I was moved to the hospital gurney we would have to get me repositioned perfectly. He still had great difficulty understanding what I was trying to say because I couldn’t speak very well or very loudly. Normally I like to be very chatty with EMTs to distract myself from what’s going on. But when he wasn’t asking questions I just had to lie there and worry about what was happening.

Although they used lights and sirens on the way in, we did not go fast out with lights or sirens. I think we were at about 38th and Georgetown which is near where the ambulance is stationed. Someone came out at the stoplight to talk to the driver. She had to tell them twice that she couldn’t talk because she was transporting a patient. I couldn’t believe she had to tell them twice!

At the ER

We arrived at the hospital at about 8 PM. We got me well repositioned on the new gurney and I was able to communicate fairly well with the nurses. Unlike during the ambulance ride, we did not need to continuously remove the valve for me to catch my breath. I was feeling infinitesimally less stressed by the situation. One stressful part of this is always the fact that I am completely unable to use a nurse call button. I told them that if they left me alone in the room, I wanted the valve out.

Last time I was in the ER with respiratory problems I had lots of familiar faces working on me. Several of the nurses recognized me and are familiar with things like how difficult it is to get an IV started. This time it was all strangers. I tried to convince the nurse that he would need the ultrasound machine to find a vein but he insisted on trying it on his own before eventually relenting and getting the device. I refrained from saying, “I told you so.”

Because of those delays, I never was left alone until the point when Josh arrived with my ventilator. I was also communicating much better at that point. My tongue was still a mess and the pain was bad but I wasn’t in such a panic mode anymore. Knowing that I was not going to be alone in the room was a huge relief. In the past, the procedure had always been to have someone meet me at the hospital and stay with me until I was settled in. However, hospital visits had become routine and I don’t longer felt like I had to have Barb or Carol be there with me. I’ve been able to go it on my own the past several times. This time however I was very happy to have someone there. Josh commented that he got to see me really quickly. Usually, you have to sort of talk your way into visiting an ER patient. When they saw him transporting a ventilator, they escorted him right in. I was extremely happy to have him there. Josh and I had the opportunity to just talk about sci-fi and TV shows and stuff and it kept me well distracted from what was going on. It was such a relief to be able to talk without having to prioritize every sentence!

When the doctor arrived, I got to tell them my history of the mouth pain off and on for a few months, the events of the past several days including my visit to the doctor on Wednesday, the extreme pain Thursday morning, and then my tongue swelling which was what led me to the ER. I told them I couldn’t believe the mouth problem alone would make my tongue suddenly swell up. But I had taken amoxicillin before. I had three doses in the past 24 hours and the tongue problem didn’t occur until almost 9 hours after my most recent dose. I also told them I had experience with Tramadol. It looked like an allergic reaction but there was nothing that could’ve caused it.

They gave me Benadryl, a steroid, started IV antibiotics, and ordered a CAT scan of my house and neck.

Josh was giving phone updates to Barb. Carol got home and although she was hungry and tired I asked if she could please come. It was really different than my usual hospital visit. I was so happy to see her arrive just before they took me for the CAT scan.

I knew that transferring me on and off the table for the CAT scan would mess up my head position and I would not be able to talk or perhaps breathe well. I was going to have Carol remove my speaking valve before they took me to CT but they moved quickly and I didn’t get a chance. I thought I could tell the CT tech everything I needed to tell her but when we got to the CT room it was noisy and I wasn’t talking very well. She couldn’t understand anything I was saying. I tried to get her to remove the valve but she didn’t know what I was talking about. I kept saying “Wait, wait…” But then when I would talk they didn’t understand.

They finally just told me to tough it out. I was able to breathe in through the valve and then with difficulty could squirt air out my mouth to exhale in a kind of panting. I knew I would have to hold my breath during the actual scan. They were using contrast in my IV which can make you feel hot and a bit nauseous. I was ready for it and that wasn’t bad.

Just transferring from one table to the other is scary for me when I can’t communicate. My arms tend to flop out the sides of the gurney and I can get my fingers scraped on doorways. I had managed to warn the EMT about it going in but did not have a chance to tell the CT tech to be careful. There are lots of other things that I could not call to their attention such as my kneecaps which can dislocate easily so stay away from my knees. I also have a urine bag hanging from my leg. One time when transporting me onto the CT table even though I could communicate I didn’t realize they grabbed the bag when dragging me over and it burst. There was no opportunity to talk about any of these details. Breathing was a priority. Bags of pee were unimportant.

I made it back to my ER room with Carol unable to speak very much. I was trying to tell her what I needed but she could not understand. I finally got her to realize I needed the pillow under my shoulders more but she wasn’t strong enough to do it. I said, “Get nurse.” She went looking for one rather than hitting the nurse call buzzer. The hallway was empty. We were both feeling pretty helpless.

She finally found some help and they got me in a good position to communicate again. I just kept thanking her over and over for being there.

The ER doctor who came in to give me my results was different than the one I had spoken to at first. She said that they found evidence of a saliva stone in my mouth. It was apparently blocking my saliva duct in the same way that a kidney stone or gallstone blocks a duct. I had never heard of anything like that. They were going to admit me. I would get a consultation with an ENT doctor in the morning.

I had to remind them that because I use a ventilator, I could not go to a regular room. I told them that they had previously tried to get progressive care to take me but they always refused and insisted I go to ICU. The ER doctor agreed with me that it was kind of a silly policy but I assured her in my experience that there was no way around it. They eventually came to that same conclusion and got me a room in the ICU.

I was soon visited by one of the Critical Care doctors who would be managing my care in the ICU. This was unusual because typically my case is managed by Internal Medicine or as they sometimes shorten it simply “the medicine team.” I didn’t think it would make much difference but in the end, I later concluded it was not such a good idea to be under Critical Care. More on that later.

In my room

It did not take very long to get me a room. I was hoping that Carol could come upstairs with me so that she could make sure that I got my head tilted back properly so I would be able to communicate with the nurses. But it was now approaching 2 AM long after visiting hours and they were reluctant to let her go up. I finally agreed and told her to go home. She would be babysitting the grandkids all day Friday and working Friday night so I told her perhaps I would see her on Saturday and she could bring my laptop or anything else I needed. There was no sense in having Barb or Josh trying to bring my laptop I wasn’t speaking well enough to use my dictation software.

When I got to the room in the ICU I made very certain that everyone understood how important it was to get my head in the proper position so that I could talk and breathe easily. Unlike the situation with the CT technicians, I was able to explain what I needed before they transferred me to the bed.

The last time I was in the ICU, it was with a respiratory inspection in February. I had been experiencing terrible chills and fever. I was in the middle of a very bad spell of chills when they told me, “The first thing we do when you get here is to give you a bed bath.” They do not use particularly warm water and I about froze that last time having already been severely chilled. For this visit, I had a fever of about 100° so getting cleaned up felt pretty good.

At this point, I was anxious to get on my ventilator and get some sleep but I knew that there would be lots of intake questions to answer. The nurse said that since I had just been there a few months ago she could copy most of my information from my previous visit. They had me positioned well enough that I could talk reasonably well so if I did have to answer a lot of questions, I would’ve been able to.

One of why favorite questions that they always ask is, “Do you know where you are?” I really enjoy giving the following standard response… “I am in the ICU of Ascension St. Vincent Hospital W. 86th St., Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America, the North American continent of the planet Earth which is the third planet in our solar system which resides in the Orion arm of the Milky Way galaxy which is part of the local galactic cluster of the universe.” The nurses get a big kick out of that. The last time I used that line, one of my nurses replied, “What? You don’t know the latitude and longitude?” I forgot to mention that while I was lying in bed at home waiting for the ambulance to arrive, it occurred to me that I had not looked up the latitude and longitude of St. Vincent Hospital and memorized it as I had originally planned.

For future reference it is 39.909 North, 86.197 West L6

It was about 3 AM I was fully settled in and able to get on my ventilator and get to sleep. There is a shift change at 7 AM and I always want to be off the ventilator prior to that. I don’t want to be dealing with a strange respiratory therapist to take me off and I want to be able to communicate with the new nurse who also comes on at 7 AM. So I instructed the respiratory person to get me off at about 6:30 AM. She let me go until 6:45 And I was grateful.

After getting off the ventilator, I could assess my situation. My pain level was pretty much less than one. My tongue was feeling much better. I estimated it was perhaps 80% back to normal. It still felt kind of thick and stiff. I discovered I do not need to have my head tilted back far in order to speak or breathe. That was a relief because trying to sleep with my head tilted back was pretty uncomfortable. It was only because I was totally exhausted that I was able to sleep well for those few hours.

Whenever I have my speaking valve out, one of the ways I can get people’s attention is by ranking a clicking sound was my tongue. I discovered I could not make that sound so I knew that things were not back to normal. After the nurse helped me call home and I spoke to Barb to tell her how I was doing. Then I did the following Facebook live video to let everyone know what was going on with me.

Eventually a female resident from the Critical Care group came in to discuss my case. She said they had called for consultation from ENT doctors who would decide whether or not I needed surgery. She thought that they would be very conservative and not recommend surgery but she could not be sure. I explained to her the difficulty that my mouth will not open very far as a result of my joint contractures. I thought that surgery to get under my tongue will either involve going up through my chin or would require pulling teeth neither of which would be any fun. Still, we had to wait for official word from the ENTs. She said that later in the morning she would be back for rounds with the entire Critical Care team including the attending physician.

They would allow me to have my regular medication as well as an oral antibiotic (IV not necessary). However, I could not have any food or other liquid in the event that they might want to do a procedure on me later in the day.

I tried to occupy my time by taking a nap or watching TV. With my head still tilted backward somewhat I couldn’t really see the TV but I just listened to MSNBC until I couldn’t take it anymore. It was wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Texas. I never did get a map and I finally had the nurse turn off the TV.

Sometime in the late morning, the Critical Care team made their rounds but I did not get to speak to them. They stood in the hallway and talked about me at a level I could not hear and with no opportunity to ask follow-up questions. That made me extremely frustrated. That’s the major problem with being in the ICU when you aren’t really very sick. There are accustomed to patients who are not able to participate in their own health care decisions. Although I had had such issues with the Internal Medicine people not communicating with me well in the past, it was much more blatant being under the purview of Critical Care. At least with Internal Medicine, I did get to see the attending physician during grounds on previous visits and ask my questions and express my concerns.

From time to time throughout the day, my nurse tried to contact critical care to see why ENT had not been to see me yet. Initially, they were surprised I had not yet heard anything, and then they tried to no avail to get any action from the ENT group. Meanwhile, I haven’t had anything to eat very little liquid since 4 PM the day before. The nurse tried to get my G-tube formula ordered so it would be ready once I was cleared. She could not do that.

Finally, at 3 PM the resident returned to tell me that they had finally gotten in touch with ENT and that they had left the building. There would be so further action today and they promised they would be in to see me “first thing tomorrow.” I was furious that we had wasted the day. I told her I wanted to eat ASAP and that considering none of the medication I was getting was via IV I wanted to be discharged immediately tomorrow after the visit from the ENTs. I was confident I would not be getting the surgery. She agreed. They would continue with oral antibiotics and some steroids to try to bring down the swelling in my tongue further and as long as there was not going to be surgery, I could go home Saturday.

If I had been on a regular diet, the next step would be to call the food service and get me a cheeseburger. But when you are on G-tube feeding it doesn’t work that way. The food has to come from the pharmacy. The resident has to prescribe it like a drug. They can’t do that until I’ve been evaluated by a dietitian to get the proper “dosage”. This isn’t something new. I’ve been getting this same nutrition three times per day for six years. I should not have needed clearance from a dietitian just to eat my regular meal.

The last time I was in the hospital I saw the dietitian and after looking at my usual intake she recommended that I add a multivitamin to my diet. That was a useful suggestion and I did so. This particular dietitian was also going to recommend that when I got home, I add 30 mL of protein supplement to my diet. That wasn’t something she was going to insist upon immediately. Again, it was a useful experience. But it did not need to delay me getting fed. By the time her recommendations made it to the resident, the resident wrote the orders, the pharmacy sent the formula, and the nurse was able to feed me it was 5 PM. A full 25 hours since my previous meal.

In addition to talking to the dietitian I was also visited by the case manager and we began making arrangements in advance for me to go home the next day assuming that I was not having surgery. She even suggested we go ahead and schedule my ambulance ride which I appreciated. The last time I tried to get out of the place we ordered an ambulance around noon and it took over eight hours to get there.

The evening shift change came at 7 PM and I got acquainted with my new nurse who was nice. Also met the nighttime respiratory therapist and made plans to get on my ventilator at about 9 PM. I was able to get another feeding just before I got on the vent. I got on the vent a little after nine and got to sleep pretty quickly.

When I’m on the ventilator at home, I can operate my iPad with pushbuttons and message Barb or Carol if I need anything. I also have a buzzer that will wake up everybody if they don’t hear my messages. Once they are in the room, I have a voice generating program called Cough Drop customized with various phrases that I might use such as, “need suction”, “raise bed”, and when all else fails one that says, “Take me off the ventilator so I can talk.” In the hospital, I don’t have that capability.

At one time I had a box that would let me do some of that kind of stuff if I had my iPad and/or laptop in the hospital but keeping such equipment on the hospital table in front of me overnight is difficult. Keeping my pushbuttons comfortably in my hand in the hospital is problematic. And right now that particular box needs a little work. I just didn’t have time to pull everything together before coming to the hospital. So I was going to have to rely on other means of communication.

I always explain to the nurses and the respiratory people my means of communicating when I can’t talk. I’m unable to shake my head yes or no so I wiggle my eyebrows up and down to mean yes and I twitch my mouth left and right to mean no. Even when I haven’t been able to explain these signals to nurses ahead of time, most of them have been able to recognize that a vertical motion in my eyes means yes and a horizontal motion in my mouth means no. Other systems such as blinking once or twice for yes or no are impossible to decode without already knowing the system in advance.

In the past, I have told the nurse in the event you can’t figure out what I want via yes and no questions, simply deflate the cuff of my trach and I will be able to talk briefly. But with my tongue messed up, I wasn’t sure that was going to work and I was pretty sure I would be trying to get as much sleep as possible. I didn’t even bother giving the nurse that option because I wasn’t sure it would work. Furthermore, as I already explained, my way of getting someone’s attention when I can’t talk is to click my tongue. With my tongue still swollen, I couldn’t do that.

I woke up a couple of times during the night. My blood pressure alarm went off a few times. As an experiment, I tried mouthing the words “BP okay?” while looking at the blood pressure monitor. Much to my surprise it only took two attempts for the nurse to correctly read my lips. She reassured me it was okay. Later that night I saw her and the respiratory therapist poking at buttons on my ventilator. I was able to ask, “what’s wrong?” Again, it only took a couple of tries for her to be able to read my lips and tell me they were just curious about what my settings were. In the morning, once I was off the vent I told her she was the absolute best lip reader I had ever encountered. She said that she had previously worked in the head and neck unit and had gotten a lot of practice there but was out of practice now that everyone was wearing masks.

The last day

With the exception of briefly waking up a couple of times as described above, I slept pretty solidly from 9 PM until 1 AM. After that, I was wide awake. One positive development was I discovered I could once again click my tongue. That told me it was back to normal.

I couldn’t get back to sleep. I just lay there thinking about how angry I was over the way things had gone the day before. I wrote the speeches I would be giving the doctors come morning. At about 5 AM, I gave up trying to sleep and told the nurse I wanted off the ventilator. Again she had no difficulty reading my lips which was amazing.

Of course, I was back under orders for no food or water until a surgery determination was made. The nurse asked me if I wanted to clean up. I had not been washed since that bath at 2 AM the night I arrived. I was surprised she offered so close to the shift change. She had the time and some help so I got another bed bath. It helped pass the time.We also passed time just talking. I told her about my unsuccessful efforts to write sci-fi.

At 7 AM there was a shift change. My new nurse remembered me from a previous visit. She had already heard my joke about my location in the universe so I told her I had intended to look up the latitude and longitude but didn’t have the opportunity. I promised if I ever saw her again I would let her know the exact coordinates. We got to talking about the upcoming race. She had grown up in Speedway and talked about the fun they had encouraging people to throw empty beer cans in their yard when she was a teenager. They would collect them and get money for recycling.

A different Critical Care resident dropped by about 9 AM. She didn’t know when the ENT doctors would be by but she reassured me that if things went as planned, I could definitely go home. I gave her an earful of my complaints about the way things went the day before including not being able to be a participant in the rounds discussion with the attending. She explained that the attending preferred to do rounds in the hall but she promised she would speak to me immediately afterward to keep the communication going. Not exactly the kind of response I wanted but it was the best I was going to get. That’s why in the future I’m going to insist that my case be managed by Internal Medicine and not Critical Care. They just aren’t equipped to deal with a patient like me.

Two female doctors from ENT finally showed up a little after 9 AM. They tried unsuccessfully to look in my mouth. They tried unsuccessfully to stick a finger into my mouth. After a brief conversation, I told them I would follow up with my own ENT and that they should send me home. I would get more antibiotics and steroids for a couple of days but I was free to go.

Soon afterward, I got word that the ambulance would not be available until 6 PM! This was an ambulance we had already scheduled a day prior and they still couldn’t be there until late in the day. God only knows how long I would’ve been there if we had waited to schedule it. The nurse helped me to call Barb and tell her I was coming home it would not be until after 6 PM and that assumes they were on time. I was free to eat again. Soon, I got the word they had called a different ambulance company which would be there about noon. I had to call Barb back again. I was very happy.

I was starting to get a backache from lying in bed for so long so I had her give me a Tramadol for the ride home. We packed the underwear I had worn into the ER. Picked up some supplies for free. I got another feeding at about 11:30. They arrived at about 12:30.

I no longer had to worry about such things as getting my head in the proper position. They had no difficulty transporting my ventilator home which would save Carol or Josh a trip up there to pick it up. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we lost part of my ventilator hose. I don’t know if a nurse or respiratory person threw it away or if it fell off in route. I was short on supplies at home so I was really upset that we lost part of my tubing. I got by okay.

This time, I was able to have a nice conversation with the EMT on the way home. One of the things I asked him was if paramedics ever really did an emergency trach in the field. I told him about my tongue swelling and how much trouble I would’ve been in had I not already had a trach. I wondered if they ever really did that, or if it was just something on TV or in movies. He said he thought they could but it would be extremely rare.

When I got home, I discovered there was other tubing missing. The valve on the end of my G-tube had been removed. Apparently, the nurse just put my feeling directly into the G-tube without using the valve. I was fortunate that I still had one in stock.

Much to our surprise, a strange home health aide showed up at 6:30 PM to put me to bed. My regular evening aide had called off and they sent a replacement without telling us. Somehow the hospital had told them I was coming home. Still, I had only been home a few hours and it was straight from the ambulance to bed. I did not need anyone to put me to bed. The next day I gave the agency an earful about don’t send people unnecessarily and don’t send a stranger replacement without giving us a heads up!

Memorial Weekend

The next day, Sunday, was race day here in Indianapolis. Last year, I did not have a home health aide available on race day and I had to watch the race in bed on my little TV. I was anxious to be able to get up after several days in bed and to be up to enjoy the race on a big TV. Another reason I wanted to be sure to get up is to watch the military jet flyby at the opening of the race. My house is less than half a mile from the Speedway. I love to go out in front of my house, look back east towards Georgetown Road, and watch the jets fly over.

My home health aide, a wonderful woman named Tre’Sean, fought her way through the traffic to get here and get me up and dressed. Not only did she suffer the Greatest Spectacle in Traffic Jams, but she had also recently been having problems with severe pain in her shoulder. We got her some Tylenol and she was able to push through the discomfort although it was really rough on her by the time she was finished.

Typically, the Indy 500 is blacked out on local TV. However, I had subscribed to the NBC streaming service PeacockTV in the hopes that it would not be subject to blackout. I had subscribed for just one month during the Winter Olympics. I canceled and then resubscribed in early May so that I could watch their wall-to-wall coverage practice and qualifying including stuff that was not available on TV or cable. The local TV station of course would not tell you that you could subscribe and watch the race online. They wanted to make sure that you reached the time delayed replay of the race that evening.

When 11 AM rolled around, I logged in and was thrilled to see that coverage was on despite the local broadcast blackout. I had prepared for the possibility of using a VPN to hide the fact that I was in Indianapolis but that was not necessary. That means that friends and family who are willing to pay $4.95 but did not have the technical expertise to use a VPN to spoof their location would be able to watch the race. I quickly posted a Facebook message telling everyone that they could get the race on PeacockTV. I also Sent a couple of private messages on Facebook messenger to let friends and family know how to get the race in case they missed the public post.

One of the people who thanked me for posting that information is a guy named John who bought out our share of our cabin on Cordray Lake in Brown County. He sent a photo that they had set up a flatscreen TV on the boat dock by the lake and they were watching the race on Peacock thanks to my tip. I presume he was using his phone as a hotspot or streaming it on his phone and Chromecast to the TV. I had to laugh hard. I remember for years and years we would go to the lake on Memorial weekends and try to watch the race. If we went up on the roof and rotated the antenna sometimes we could pick up a very fuzzy picture out of Louisville Kentucky on a 25-inch analog TV. In later years, the only internet I had was dial-up over a phone line that wasn’t fast enough to stream music let alone HD TV. Technology sure has come a very long way.

I also posted a phased message here letting people know I was going to do a Facebook live video of the flyby from in front of my house. My video which is embedded below did not turn out very well. But check the link to this post by clicking the Facebook icon before this sentence. My cousin Kathy who was at the race sitting on the main straightaway got a phenomenal video of the flyby right overhead.

The National Anthem was scheduled for 12:18 PM with the flyby at the end. I started my live stream at 12:14 in the house because I can’t see my phone in the bright sunlight. As is our tradition, we were joined by my neighbor Nick and his daughter Madison who always enjoy watching it as well. Much of the video is us standing around waiting for it and Barb and I talking about our recent hospital visits. When the Thunderbirds finally came by, they sort of snuck up on us. Usually, we can hear the jets coming from a long way away. They were also unusually low and I was just barely able to see them above the roof of my garage. The location of my iPhone mounted on my wheelchair armrest was even lower so the video didn’t really turn out very well. The actual flyby occurs at about the 11:50 mark in the video.

I got back in the house to watch the rest of the opening ceremonies and much to my disappointment, the Thunderbirds made another pass at the singing of, “Back Home Again in Indiana” and I missed it.

Somewhere along the last several paragraphs, you’re probably asking, “What does this have to do with Chris’ hospital visit? In many ways, nothing.

I wrote this part because of what happened next. I found myself getting very emotional at the opening of the race. It was fantastic to see a full crowd again after two years of the pandemic. The weather was perfect. I’ve gotten to watch a great deal of practice and all of the qualifying this year. I began to ask myself, “Why is it so important for me to go sit out in the middle of my street to watch some airplanes fly over?” I found myself with tears in my eyes when I realized the answer. Watching those planes fly over each year is the last remaining connection I have to the event. Somehow, I feel like I’ve participated in the festivities by watching military jets fly over on Memorial Weekend. Last year, when one of my favorite drivers, Helio Castroneves won his fourth Indy 500, I had to lay in bed and cheer with tears in my eyes. This year I was up. The race was back to normal. I got to see the flyby not just hear it.

I thought about the first time my dad took me to the track when I was five years old. I thought about the countless days I had spent at the track in my college years roaming around Gasoline Alley with my video camera talking to drivers and mechanics. I thought about the years spent watching the snowy picture at the lake. I thought about the first time I got to actually go to the race. I thought about the article I wrote for Indianapolis Monthly Magazine about that first experience. I thought about the fact that under the guidance of new owner Roger Penske who is my hero, the track would finally get to grow and evolve under his expert guidance. Indy was back. I was there to witness it. And all of this came within a few days of one of the most terrifying and frustrating medical experiences of my life.

So I cried for a few minutes at the beginning of the race and then I enjoyed every minute of it.

Medical Follow-up

Monday was the holiday and I spent time catching up on things I’d missed while in the hospital. Tuesday I got on the phone call my own ENT doctor appointment. I will see him Monday, June 13.

Then something really weird happened.

My mouth had been feeling okay since I got home. Throughout this experience, there was a tiny place under my tongue that felt like a little soft bump almost like a tiny polyp no more than a couple of millimeters in size. In the days since I been home, that spot turned hard. When brushing my teeth Tuesday morning, I had my aide gently brush under my tongue. The tiny hard place came loose and I was able to spit it out. It looked to me like a scab but it had a hard core in it. I don’t know what it was but underneath my tongue feels 100% normal now.

I will have to talk with the ENT to see what he thinks but this whole thing might be over with!

I had a couple of days of antibiotics and steroids to take. The steroids made me very jittery Tuesday afternoon and evening. I went to bed early and decided to stay in bed Wednesday. I quit the steroids one dose early. I finished out my antibiotics despite some intestinal issues they caused. I will spare you the details. As I am completing this blog, it is Thursday evening and things are pretty much back to normal. No mouth pain. No more intestinal issues.

My only problem now is that my aide with the bad shoulder got into a disagreement with her boss for taking time off. She ended up getting fired. Now I have to train a new aide. I’m really going to miss the previous one. We will remain friends even though she no longer works here.

So, that was a story longer than a quick Facebook message. I hope you enjoyed it.

Cancel Culture is Seductive

I’ve come to the uneasy realization that “cancel culture” is seductive. It’s easy to get caught up in it. Although I consider myself to be highly empathetic and a hyper-liberal social justice crusader, for the most part, I think that cancel culture has gone too far. There’s a difference between calling someone out for their unacceptable acts or opinions versus getting high on the power that you can destroy someone’s career by zealously defending someone who might not take the level of offense that you take.

I recently read two science fiction stories that triggered my liberal sensibilities and found me taking offense on behalf of a group of which I’m not a part. One of the things I dislike most about cancel culture is this false offense. While it’s okay to speak out and support minorities or other people who are the targets of unacceptable speech and behavior, there are times when you have to realize, “This isn’t my fight.” It belittles the target of the offense implying that they need me to come to their rescue.

Here is a brief synopsis of the two stories that offended my liberal sensitivities. Spoilers abound.

The first of the two stories appeared in the July/August 2021 The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The short story titled “Perdition” by Rowan Wren is the story of a daughter of Satan who is sent to earth on a mission and falls in love with a woman. That woman who is essentially a decent person sells her soul to be reunited with her demon lover. According to the introduction to the story, the author wrote the story “… as a rejection of the need for perceived goodness/purity as it relates to queer love.” It certainly achieves its goal. But why would you want to do such a thing? The world is full of people who believe that anyone who isn’t pure straight heterosexual deserves to be in hell. A story such as this would only confirm their prejudice.

The second story appeared in the following September/November 2021 issue of F&SF. “The Abomination” by Nuzo Onoh is a supernatural fantasy story set in an African village. The title character is an intersex woman. Although she appears mostly female and identifies as such, she has a penis in addition to her female organs. Nearly murdered by her father at birth she is instead entrusted to the care of a widow who lost her husband and children to a plague. Her entire life she is ostracized by the entire community and eventually opinion forms that a famine is her fault. While we sympathize with the character who is treated horribly by the community, at one point she engages in a bizarre reproductive act with a demon. The end result is that she lays 40 eggs. On the night of a blood moon, she is led to believe that the village has decided to accept her after some ritual of purification. In fact, is a ruse to lure her into a trap where they intend to kill her in a ritual sacrifice to appease the gods. At that moment, her 40 eggs hatch into huge winged beasts which reign death and destruction on the village.

Presumably, we should cheer that she got her revenge on those who mistreated her over her entire life. On the other hand from the perspective of the villagers, she fornicated with the devil and unleashed devastating destruction of a large portion of the village. Their only recourse was to worship her as a god in hopes that she would not again unleash her wrath upon them. In the end, she was as evil as they unjustifiably originally believed her to be.

From one perspective, the moral to the story is, intersex individuals are indeed abominations to be feared. The village would’ve been better off if they had killed her at birth. That’s not exactly the LGBT+ positive message that one presumes the author intended.

My level of offense at the stories doesn’t rise to the point where I want to organize a Twitter campaign to have these authors silenced or to boycott the magazine which published them in back-to-back issues. But I find it impossible to resist the need to comment that these stories have some serious issues. Either they really are intended to portray LGBT+ individuals as evil, or they seriously damage the reputation of such people giving fuel to those who see such people as abominations here in the real world.

In our legal system, we have the principle that one has to have legal standing in order to charge someone. You have to show that you somehow suffered damage or are in some way aggrieved by the offending actions or speech. However, in the court of public opinion, no such requirement exists. While it is incumbent upon us as good citizens to call out and object to abhorrent behavior and speech, there’s something disingenuous when the outrage of the hyper empathetic otherwise uninvolved third parties exceeds the outrage of the target of the offensive acts.

As a straight, cisgender, white male… I don’t have legal standing to be offended by these stories. Far be it from me to impose my opinion on the LGBT+ community what they should or should not be offended by.

This article from The Atlantic opens with the paragraph…

Pity the fiction writers trying to make art in the era of social-media mobs. Start with one in particular, “a nonbinary human … who loves to dream and create.” Last week, this young writer asked on Twitter, “You know how there are sensitivity readers, courses, and guidelines for writing outside your own experience? Can there be courses and advice for writing one’s own experience?” This young writer used to believe that “writing about my marginalizations and my own personal experience will be okay”—no more. “I have learned that is not the case!” this young person observed, fretting that, without meaning to do harm, “I might be writing my gender wrong.”

I totally get this point. What do you do when some third-party thought police who is not a member of your own group takes more offense at something than you do yourself? Such activity can cause you to wonder, “Why am I not as offended as I ought to be?” Am I not being loyal to my own people when others are outraged over something that doesn’t necessarily bother me?” In some instances, what is labeled abhorrent by these third-party advocates is in no way offensive to the groups which they claim to be defending.

I see this most in debates over what is or is not “ableism”. I’ve lived my life of 66 years with Spinal Muscular Atrophy — a severe genetic neuromuscular disease. I’ve never walked. I’ve used a wheelchair since my parents purchased the first one when I was age five. While I’ve never been someone who wallows in self-pity and I certainly have never sought pity from others, the stark reality is living with a lifelong disability is for the most part an undesirable situation. If I could push a magic button and eliminate my disability I would do so in a heartbeat. On the other hand, there are those who claim that any desire to be free of the disability or to cast disability in ANY negative light is “ableism”.

The desire to be free of my disability doesn’t mean I see my life as worthless or in fact worth any less than able-bodied people. I don’t hate my life. But to suggest that there is anything negative about my situation could brand me as a traitor to my own people.

Thus, my feeling is that while empathetic third parties can and should support those who are the targets of unacceptable speech and behavior, that outrage, that need to cancel the offender, needs to be in proportion to the actual offense to the offended parties. The hyper-liberal hypersensitive devotees of cancellation need to take their cues from those who actually have a stake in the situation and not set themselves up as the arbitrators not only of what is or is not acceptable but the extent to which such unacceptable opinions and acts deserve to be canceled.

Thought I’ve Something More to Say

While I’m on the topic of cancel culture, I might as well speak out about other reasons that I dislike the phenomena even though it’s a bit off-topic from the reason I was inspired to write this blog post in the first place.

When I speak out in opposition to canceling people, I’m not talking about the people who deserve to be canceled like Weinstein or Cosby. No one is arguing that there should not be consequences for people who abuse their positions of authority on who exploit anyone for personal pleasure or gain. They deserve not only to be tried in the court of public opinion, but they’ve also faced criminal charges, and rightly so.

Even if the offensive acts or positions don’t rise to the level of criminality, there are individuals whose behavior is sufficiently unacceptable that public outrage and withdrawal of support for them as artists or politicians is clearly appropriate.

It’s one thing to speak out against people who act inappropriately and who hold inappropriate positions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. however not everyone who has acted inappropriately or expressed unacceptable views deserves to have their lives or careers ruined by an overzealous court of public opinion.

Cancel culture doesn’t allow for people to evolve. It doesn’t allow for forgiveness. It doesn’t accept apologies. In many instances, the trolls dig deep into a person’s past and attempt to crucify them for positions or behavior which at the time were not necessarily contrary to what was acceptable at the time.

Just because you enjoyed watching “The Dukes of Hazard of doesn’t make you racist because they had a Confederate flag atop a vehicle named Gen. Lee. Nor does being a white actor who at one point did a comedy routine in blackface make you racist. Public standards about what is or is not acceptable have evolved as they should. Cancel culture doesn’t seem to account for this and it holds people to standards that did not exist at the time of the alleged offense.

Consider the case involving legendary sportscaster Bob Lamey and race driver Derek Daly. In 2018, Lamey suddenly announced his retirement as a broadcaster for the Indianapolis Colts Radio Network. Soon after it was revealed that he had used the N-word in front of an African-American woman in a discussion about his history as a broadcaster. Lamey did not use the word to describe anyone or a group of people rather, he was telling the story of Irish race driver Derek Daly who once on a live radio interview early in his career also dropped the N-word. Daly claims that not being from America he had no idea how offensive the word was. He had not called someone by that name rather he used a euphemism that included the word. More details about what Daly actually said can be found in this article from the Indianapolis Star. The event had happened nearly 40 years ago. When his faux pas was pointed out to him by race journalist Robin Miller, Daly was appalled and ashamed at his own ignorance and apologized.

As a result of the controversy, Daly was fired as a race analyst for Indianapolis TV station WISH-TV and his son Connor Daly a race driver in his own right, lost his sponsorship. Derek Daly denies any accusation of racism citing the fact that he had championed the cause of driver Willy T. Ribbs the first African-American to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Ribbs defended Daly citing their years of friendship and saying he would not have invited a racist to be part of his wedding party when he was married.

While one can argue that Lamey’s use of the N-word off the air in what he believed to be was a private conversation was inappropriate despite the fact he was not using the word himself but merely quoting someone else, it might’ve been more judicious to use “N-word” rather than substitute the actual word itself while recounting the incident. Did Lamey deserve to be retired over the incident? Was it that horrific?

Daly on the other hand had long ago apologized for his ignorance. Certainly, cultural differences, a statute of limitations, and the possibility of redemption or forgiveness were not taken into account when Daly was fired. Furthermore, why are the sins of the father laid upon his son who is totally innocent of even unintentional offense?

Of course, my abhorrence of cancel culture, even in the face of such ridiculous extremes as the Lamey/Daly incident, will open me up to criticism. If I was anyone of importance, I could be canceled for opposing cancel culture.

I find myself having zero-tolerance for zero-tolerance policies. So cancel me.

My Book is Finished

This is the seventh in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

I finished writing my book.

What? You are asking. What book?

It’s a book of my collected failures as a fiction writer. Let me explain…

On August 23, 2020, I decided to try my hand at writing science fiction. As I’ve explained in previous installments of my Author’s Journal, I’ve done some technical writing and I was able to publish two autobiographical essays in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine in the late 1980s. However, with the exception of one or two stories for high school English classes, I’ve never completed a work of fiction. Even though my autobiographical essay “The Reunion” was awarded Best Magazine Feature of 1987 by the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, that doesn’t mean I’m capable of writing publishable fiction. I’ve always said, “Just because I know how to tell a story doesn’t mean that I know how to make one up.”

Have I also had a lifelong dislike for doing research although I discovered that these days with Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube research can be quite fun.

I did have a few ideas for science fiction stories that had been rattling around in my head linearly for decades. Admittedly some of the stories originated as fantasies that would occupy my mind on sleepless nights. What if I was a famous inventor? What if I could be an astronaut? What would my life have been like if I did not have a disability? Perhaps these fantasies could be the basis of some interesting stories.

In the spring of 2020, I resubscribed to some of my favorite science fiction magazines that I had not read since the late 1970s. My worsening disability had made it impossible for me to handle books and magazines. But these days the major science fiction magazines are available through Amazon Kindle and other online sources that I could read on my iPad using the Kindle app. After reading several issues, I convinced myself that although I wasn’t up to the standards of my beloved Golden Age Masters like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, or Robert A. Heinlein perhaps I could write well enough to be published.

Since then I’ve written seven science fiction stories, one general fiction story, and a science fact article related to science fiction technology. I have submitted stories to 11 different print and online publications. I have collected 25 rejection emails as of today, January 16, 2022. Two of my science fiction stories and my science fact article are currently under review at three venues. According to a chart I’m keeping, I have just most seven more opportunities to publish my stories unless I can discover additional markets.

My Plan B has always been that if I could not publish a story, I can put my rejections together into an anthology e-book and sell it via Amazon for a dollar or two. I didn’t really think I could get rich off of this. I’m doing it just for and to please myself.

Along the way I decided to write an introduction to each story and then after the story write an essay explaining how and why I wrote the story the way I did. My stories are often filled with Easter eggs relating to real events of my personal life. A professional author who had read one of my blog posts said that I had a strong ability to make my life interesting to total strangers. It seems that in many cases, the story behind the story is going to be more interesting than the story itself.

Perhaps this confirms the adage that it’s all about the journey and not necessarily about the destination.

I have completely run out of ideas. I don’t think this is already an ordinary case of writer’s block. Most of these stories have been rattling around in my head for many, many years. I’ve heard that the best way to become a writer is to write continuously to hone your craft. Well, I don’t know how to do that without ideas for stories. The well has completely run dry. Unless I find my muse somewhere along the way, this is the end. There are potential sequels to my stories to be written but I don’t have any reasonable plot lines remotely figured out. I haven’t given up completely but realistically it’s going to be a long time until more ideas appear at the rate I’m going.

As my submission spreadsheet has approached being completely filled in, I have been putting the final touches on the essays and preparing my anthology for self-publication. Today I did a semifinal proofread of the entire collection of both stories and essays. I cannot release the book until all of my potential markets are exhausted.

None of the professional markets allow you to submit stories to two different markets at the same time and most of them require that you only submit to them one story at a time. So it could still be many months until the chart is completely filled.

The title of the book is “You can’t do that… But what if you could?”

Most of the stories I’ve written can be described by that sentence. And the science fiction stories I like to read fall into that category as well. Take something like the classic science fiction technologies such as a limitless, clean, cheap source of energy such as cold fusion. You can’t do that… But what if you could?

What about gravity control? Get in your shuttlecraft, push a button, and it silently floats off the ground and soars into outer space without using chemical rockets? You can’t do that… But what if you could?

In TV shows and movies there is a classic scene where a young girl says, “I got myself pregnant.” My response is always, “No you didn’t! It takes two people.” You can’t do that… But what if you could?

Here is the table of contents of my anthology of essays and stories that will be released as soon as I run out of markets. If by chance one of my stories does get published, I will delay the release of my book until my contract allows me to republish it in my anthology or I will simply remove it from the list.

You can’t do that… But what if you could?

Part 1

  • Forward to “You can’t do that… But what if you could?”
  • About the Author
  • Essay: How I Started Writing Science Fiction
    • Chapter 1 – Why I Don’t Write Fiction
    • Chapter 2 – I Hate Research
    • Chapter 3 – Why Science Fiction?
    • Chapter 4 – Why Start Now?
    • Chapter 5 – What to Write?
  • Essay: My Pet Peeve – Plot-Driven Technology

Part 2

  • Introduction to “Race to the Future”
  • Novella “Race to the Future” (21,000 words) The biography of orphan Edward Tillman who grew up in Chicago and Indianapolis and perfected cold nuclear fusion. It is a clean, inexpensive, safe energy source that makes electric cars self-charging. His wife Julie Hendrix invents a new branch of physics called “quantum resonance” which explains his breakthrough technology. The start of a planned trilogy titled “The Tillman Family Chronicles.”
    • Chapter 1 – A Tragic Start
    • Chapter 2 – A Winning Move
    • Chapter 3 – Dammit! Let Him Try.
    • Chapter 4 – The Paper Chase
    • Chapter 5 – Not Being A Fool Who Rushed In
    • Chapter 6 – A New World Order
    • Chapter 7 – Negotiating Mergers
    • Epilogue – The Checkered Flag
  • Essay: Making of “Race to the Future”
    • Chapter 1 – “This is Reality Stupid!”
    • Chapter 2 – Funding the Future
    • Chapter 3 – I Didn’t Know There Would Be Math Involved
    • Chapter 4 – Location, Location, Location
    • Chapter 5 – Family Tragedy
    • Chapter 6 – “Children’s Book of Saints”
    • Chapter 7 – The Chicago Years
    • Chapter 8 – Linear Versus Nonlinear
    • Chapter 9 – Eddie and Me
    • Chapter 10 – Indy Bound
    • Chapter 11 – Indianapolis as a Character
    • Chapter 12 – Educating Eddie
    • Chapter 13 – Eddie’s Mentors
    • Chapter 14 – Eddie’s Friends and Lovers
    • Chapter 15 – The Technology
    • Chapter 16 – The Real Story Behind Cold Fusion
    • Chapter 17 – Making Your Case Before God
    • Chapter 18 – The Ending and What’s Wrong with the Story

Part 3

  • Introduction to “The Rescue”
  • Novelette: “The Rescue” (16,600 words) The Tillman Family Chronicles continue with the story of Julie’s invention of the TED – a Thrust Emitting Device that turns electricity into thrust. Eddie and Julie’s 19-year-old genius astronaut daughter Teresa flies a daring rescue mission to save eight astronauts aboard the damaged International Space Station. (Note: No chapters in this story.)
  • Making of “The Rescue”
    • Chapter 1 – The Premise
    • Chapter 2 – The Opening
    • Chapter 3 – The Magic Show
    • Chapter 4 – What’s in a Name
    • Chapter 5 – Launch and Rendezvous
    • Chapter 6 – The International Space Station
    • Chapter 7 – The Actual Rescue
    • Chapter 8 – The Aftermath

Part 4

  • Essay: What Happened to Part 3 of the Tillman Family Chronicles – In the third part of the Chronicles, Teresa’s husband Thomas Linwood was going to invent a faster-the-light spaceship drive. This is the story of why that story didn’t work.
  • Essay: Saving the Tillman/Linwood N-Drive – I invented a unique FTL drive but could not come up with a workable story to go with it. It’s a shame my invention would go to waste. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could patent fictional technology?
  • Flash Fiction: “Literary Patents” (1300 words) A science fiction author is sued for patent infringement when he incorporates a piece of fictional technology invented by another author into one of his stories.
  • Making of “Literary Patents”
  • Science Fact Article: “Eliminating Einstein Doesn’t Help” – A review of various plot devices science fiction authors use to get around the fact that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Includes a mathematical examination of the physics of Star Trek warp drive which will shock you.

Part 5

  • Making of “Denizens of My Dreams” – The story behind a 300 word piece of flash fiction that was inspired by a dream I had.
  • Flash Fiction: “Denizens of My Dream” (300 words) – A somewhat surreal reflection on the people who occupy your dreams.
  • Essay: Another Dream Inspired Story – The story behind the only non-science fiction piece of fiction in the book. Inspired by an actual dream I had.
  • Flash Fiction: “The Big Lie” (1500 words) – An overheard phone conversation at a food court leads to a political discussion between two strangers in wheelchairs.

Part 6

  • Making of “I Can’t Say” – I had an idea for a novel about a disabled man who is given an opportunity to live his life over again with all of his adult memories intact and to relive his life without his disability. After writing the first chapter, I realized that chapter might make an interesting short story.
  • Short Story: “I Can’t Say” (3500 words) – A mysterious voice makes an offer to a dying disabled man but refuses to divulge any information about who is making the offer or why it is being made.
  • Essay: How Reality Killed My Elaborate Fantasy – The plot outline of a novel to be titled “The Reboots” the first chapter of which is the short story “I Can’t Say”. Explores the reasons why current events ruined my clever idea for the novel.
    • Chapter 1 – Want to Get Rich? Become Bill Gates
    • Chapter 2 – Averting Disasters
    • Chapter 3 – Bring in the Love Interest
    • Chapter 4 – Reality Destroyed my Fantasy

Part 7

  • Essay: My Greatest Sci-fi Story May Be Unpublishable – I wrote a science fiction story that has science, genetics, courtroom drama, family drama, teenage pregnancy, LGBT+/gender identity issues, religion, politics, prejudice, romance, abortion rights, math, and ultimately the fate of the human race. Unfortunately in the current climate, my qualifications to write such a story will come into question any may be too controversial to publish. Ultimately I may not end up self-publishing the story I call “The Duosexual”
    • Chapter 1 – The Premise
    • Chapter 2 – Why the Story Right Never Be Published
    • Chapter 3 – I Need a Fuckin’ Expert
    • Chapter 4 – The Helicopter Story
  • Novella “The Duosexual” (17,000 words) – A pregnant intersex girl fights to prevent her parents from forcing her to have an abortion. Embarks on a lifelong course of action that has profound effects on her personally, society in general, and ultimately the fate of the human race as we know it. This story may be too controversial to be included in the book.
    • Chapter 1 – “In the beginning…”
    • Chapter 2 – “In the image of God He created them male and female”
    • Chapter 3 – “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”
    • Chapter 4 – “God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”
    • Chapter 5 – “The one who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'”
  • Making of “The Duosexual”
    • Chapter 1 – The Birds have the Bees
    • Chapter 2 – 23 and Me
    • Chapter 3 – “In the beginning…”
    • Chapter 4 – The Trial
    • Chapter 5 – Teen Sex
    • Chapter 6 – Self-Identity
    • Chapter 7 – Mystery Revealed
    • Chapter 8 – “God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”
    • Chapter 9 – This is the End
    • Chapter 10 – The Metaphor

Part 8

  • Introduction to “The Pope of the Apocalypse” – My fascination with post-apocalyptic stories leads me to fantasize about what it would be like to survive the apocalypse with a disability and how would the church survive if there were no more priests.
  • Novella: “The Pope of the Apocalypse” (13,000 words) – A 32-year-old man with cerebral palsy is one of the rare survivors of a deadly pandemic. When he finds a woman who came to help him survive, his face with a difficult choice of marrying her or being ordained as a Roman Catholic bishop to ensure the survival of the Church.
  • Making of “The Pope of the Apocalypse”
    • Chapter 1 – The Premise
    • Chapter 2 – Special Education
    • Chapter 3 – “The horror…”
    • Chapter 4 – Salvation and Matrimony
    • Chapter 5 – An Offer of French Fries Doesn’t Mean True Love
    • Chapter 6 – Discerning the will of God
    • Chapter 7 – Ordination
    • Chapter 8 – Being a Priest
    • Chapter 9 – Becoming Pope

Final Thoughts

    Stay tuned for further developments.

Fake Sci-fi and Fantasy

A little over a year ago I decided to try my hand at writing fiction specifically sci-fi. If I’m going to write a story that sells then I need to know what is selling. After a long hiatus of reading sci-fi, I re-started subscriptions to the “Big Three” sci-fi magazines: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. I also occasionally read online publications Clarkesworld and Daily Science Fiction.

Most of the content is quite entertaining, well written, and I would consider it worth the time to read.. Unfortunately, not all of it fits very well into my own personal definition of science fiction or speculative fiction or fantasy.

The writer’s guidelines for Analog say in part…

We publish science fiction stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

I suppose to be fair, that definition is somewhat limited to what most people would call “hard science fiction” and I admit that is my favorite sub-genre.

Asimov’s takes a somewhat broader view in their guidelines which say in part…

In general, we’re looking for “character oriented” stories, those in which the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will constitute the majority of our purchases, but there’s always room for the humorous as well. SF dominates the fiction published in the magazine, but we also publish borderline fantasy, slipstream, and surreal fiction. No sword & Sorcery, please. Neither are we interested in explicit sex or violence. A good overview would be to consider that all fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of human existence, but that in science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the Universe.

Although they are emphasizing character over science, I think it’s fair to say they are seeing the science aspect as something essential to the genre.

F&SF, as its name implies, embraces broader material. You won’t find any fantasy or supernatural content in Analog. F&SF’s guidelines say…

Fantasy & Science Fiction has no formula for fiction, but we like to be surprised by stories, either by the character insights, ideas, plots, or prose. The speculative element may be slight, but it should be present. We prefer character-oriented stories, whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, or another genre.

That’s an extremely loose definition which I suppose explains why this is my least favorite of the three although I do enjoy it a great deal. I’ve been known to skip over some of the pure fantasy stories that didn’t catch my interest but I read most of it. One of my complaints below is about a story from F&SF and I suppose that story does fit their definition but that doesn’t mean it’s my cup of tea.

Editors are free to publish whatever kind of stories they want. My award-winning autobiographical article “The Reunion” published in the September 1987 issue of Indianapolis Monthly Magazine was nearly rejected because it was written in first person and didn’t really fit the usual format of the magazine. Editor Deborah Paul then decided “I am the editor and just because I’ve never published anything first person before doesn’t mean I can’t start now.” Indianapolis Monthly Magazine readers probably have certain expectations but I doubt they are as specific as those of the readers of genre magazines. When I read a magazine with the words “science fiction” in the title, that’s precisely what I expect to see.

Sadly, on occasion, I’m seeing the stories that I don’t feel really fit that category.

There was a story several months ago and I’m sorry I don’t remember which of the three magazines it was in and I don’t remember the title. It was set on Mars and it was the story of colonists who I believe were farmers operating greenhouse structures to grow crops. There was a mystery involved that implied someone was sabotaging their equipment. It was done in such a way to make it look like neighboring farms were sabotaging each other. Spoiler alert… It wasn’t any of the farms. It was some mining company trying to drive out the farmers so that they could claim the area for its mineral rights.

Except for the added peril of the harsh environment of Mars, there was absolutely nothing about this story that I would consider inherently sci-fi in nature. This exact same story could have been told with few changes if it was set in the farmlands of America. It probably would be more credible in pioneer days but it could possibly be a modern story about disputes between landowners and big corporations that want to exploit a region.

I got the feeling that the sci-fi elements to the story were only there to give the story a market. You’ve got the three print publications that I’ve been talking about in addition to lots of other online markets for genre work. Where would you sell such a story if it didn’t have this added on, nonessential sci-fi element?

If you go back and look at Asimov’s guidelines, They asked for character-oriented stories that just happen to have a science setting. However, this particular story didn’t have especially compelling characters. The only thing that it really had going for it was the mystery of who was sabotaging the operation and why. Again, the only thing that the Mars setting added was a bit of peril provided by the harsh environment.

Let’s take a counterexample of another story set on Mars. I thought it was going to be an ordinary murder mystery that unnecessarily took place on the Red Planet. Appearing in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF is a short story “The Plus One” by Marie Vibbert. The story opens with a US Marshal stationed on Mars who is the only law enforcement personnel in the area. She is called to the scene of a dead body found in a small survival tent found at the edge of a crater. My initial expectation was that this was an ordinary murder mystery that had absolutely nothing to do with being set on Mars. The main character’s insatiable passion to solve the mystery was enough to keep me interested but it was nothing extraordinary. It appeared to be the kind of story you can see on any one-hour police procedural TV show.

I’m sorry to spoil the mystery but I have to tell you the end of the story in order to make my point.

It turns out that the woman perished from exposure when the heat on her survival tent failed. She had come to Mars as a Plus One with her wife who was employed by a private mining company. She herself, was jobless. When her wife fell ill and died, she had nowhere to go. The stereotypical heartless corporation felt no responsibility towards her. She applied to the US Consulate on Mars for a trip home but another ship would not be leaving for nine months. Because she was “in no imminent danger” they would not provide her with temporary housing for more than one month. Everywhere she turned, she was turned away. People said she should’ve sought temporary employment with some company but according to the narrator, that would involve walking long distances across the planet with nothing but your environment suit and your temporary shelter to support you.

The Marshall filed misdemeanor charges against the company and the consulate for failure to provide emergency aid which was a fundamental law given the harsh environment of Mars. On the other hand, it was a misdemeanor and they would’ve had to pay a fine towards the deceased’s burial cost and to their estate and heirs. That’s not the kind of punishment one might expect for what was essentially negligent homicide. When the Marshall’s bosses ordered her to withdraw the charges and drop the matter, she refused which resulted in a one-month suspension. This risked putting her and her husband who was a Plus One in the same position as the dead homeless woman. In the end, they banded together with other neighboring colonists to create the first and only homeless shelter on Mars. It would provide temporary housing for anyone who needed it until they could catch a ride back to earth.

This did turn out to be a story that needed the unique setting of Mars. It illustrated that even as we colonize other planets, we are still going to face the same social problems that we face here on earth. We have the unrealistic expectation that new societies established on Mars, the moon, or even interstellar colonies will be a futuristic utopia in which such problems do not exist. It is a cautionary tale that warns us that social justice issues are going to follow us wherever we go. It is an excellent example of what a good sci-fi story can and should do.

A couple of more positive and negative examples from that same issue of F&SF I would like to briefly discuss. “Babylon System” by Maurice Broaddus is a story of a Jamaican man named Lij who is incarcerated under harsh circumstances which dehumanize people and insist that they give up their names and use only their prisoner numbers. There are android guards and at one point our main character reveals that he is some sort of clone or manufactured human who has no bellybutton. However, his clone status nor the robot guards add anything essential to the basic plot or atmosphere of the story.

The indomitable spirit of the main character, his struggle to maintain his humanity in an inhumane system, his desire to reawaken the humanity of those around him who have lost theirs, and the background of his Rastafarian culture all make for a compelling narrative. However, the sci-fi setting adds absolutely nothing to the story that is essential. The introductory paragraphs explain that this is part of a series of stories by the author about that character. Perhaps this character’s broader narrative is more firmly rooted in a sci-fi world butt based on this installment alone, I cannot recommend it as a sci-fi story on that basis alone despite its other merits.

Concerned that my own status as an old white guy and my inability to connect to the experiences of ethnically and culturally diverse characters might have soured me on the story, let me make reference to yet another story from that same issue. “Dontay’s Bones” by Darian Darrell Jerry is a short story set in the impoverished areas of Memphis, Tennessee. A young African-American man struggles to get by in this harsh setting and does all he can to avoid selling his soul to a drug dealer by joining that operation. On the surface, there is nothing at all sci-fi nor fantasy about this particular setting. However, a series of bizarre events unfold that hint that there is something dark and evil going on. Given the title of the magazine, I wasn’t sure whether it was sci-fi or fantasy. Whichever it was, it was deeply rooted in the narrative. While there was some hint that some of the strange occurrences could have been drug-induced, the end of the story reveals that what was occurring was real. I won’t spoil the outcome because I’ve already done too much of that in this blog.

While one could argue that you could tell the same basic story without the fantastic elements, I felt like the genre elements were so intricately woven into the narrative that it works for me as a genre story. And for an old white guy, I can’t honestly say I identify with the characters No matter how liberal or “woke” I consider myself. However, adding the genre elements to the story made it accessible to me even if I have no experience or personal context that would make me connect to an inner-city character so culturally and ethically different from myself.

Well-written sci-fi and fantasy should open our minds to worlds and possibilities that are beyond our experience. “Dontay’s Bones” did that for me. “Babylon System” did not.”

Whatever your definition is of sci-fi or fantasy, I think they should be an expectation that those elements are an essential part of the story. That doesn’t mean that character, plot, atmosphere, narrative, and language are unimportant. But I want my sci-fi to be real sci-fi.

To quote comedian Dennis Miller with his standard sign-off after his rant at the end of his show “That’s just my opinion… I could be wrong.”

Author’s Journal: My First Indy 500

This is the sixth in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

We now come to what was my last print publication to date… Another article in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine published in the May 1994 issue. It was about my first experience attending the Indianapolis 500. I have been going to the track on practice and qualifying days since I was six years old. However, because there weren’t very many good seating options for someone in a wheelchair, I didn’t attend the race until 1993. That year, they built a new wheelchair platform in front of the grandstand from the start of turn three until the beginning of turn four. We managed to get tickets and see the race for the first time. After that, I attended the 500 and the Brickyard 400 until about 2004. I don’t exactly remember the dates but a 2003 incident I will describe in a moment contributed to my decision to quit going. One of the problems was that the Brickyard race was in late July or early August. For two years in a row, the temperatures were forecast to be 90° or above and I knew I couldn’t stand that so we gave away our tickets. After that, we didn’t renew.

On October 22, 2003, there was a fatal accident involving driver Tony Renna during a tire test day when no one was in the grandstand. There was no video of the crash because it was during a private test. Photos of the aftermath showed that the car got into the fence and knocked down one of the steel poles. The steel pole crashed into the wheelchair platform about 50 yards east of where I normally sit. Had that accident occurred on race day, fans would have been seriously injured or killed. I didn’t really feel safe sitting there anymore. At the 2010 race which I did not attend, there was another crash in that area and after looking at the video it seemed clear to me that one of the tires of the car had penetrated the fence. I wrote a Facebook message to local reporters who were bragging about how the fence held up and I told him to take a second look at their own video. I’m certain I could see one of the tires bouncing around underneath the grandstand and disappearing behind the wall. The reporter wrote me back and said there was no penetration of the fence but he was wrong. This YouTube video is a little blurry and doesn’t show it as well as the original.

Also, the hassle of getting in and out of the track got worse. My disability was getting worse as well. I like to listen to the pit crews on my scanner radio but in order to be able to work it properly, I needed to push buttons using a wooden stick that I held in my mouth. It was difficult to keep my head up straight in order to do that. The wheelchair platform was a bit wobbly and every time someone would walk by I would often have my head fall over. If I put my head back against the headrest, I couldn’t operate the radio and it was difficult to turn my head. If I had to sit in one position for the entire race, couldn’t operate my radio, and didn’t feel safe, it just wasn’t worth it anymore so we quit going. I still went to practice a few days but we sat in the wheelchair section and I quit touring the garage area.

For purposes of this blog, I really don’t have any interesting stories to tell about how it was written or published. I went to the race. It was an amazing unforgettable experience. I wrote about it. Indianapolis Monthly agreed to publish it in the May 1994 issue. There is a photo of me sitting at the track in a heavy coat. We went over there probably in February or March with a magazine photographer to take that photo.

The more interesting story is rereading it now many years later. Shortly after I got my first webpage which was probably in the late 1990s I’m not sure, I posted the uncut version of the story. I had titled it “A Race Fan’s First 500” but the magazine retitled it “Being There”. I didn’t particularly like the change. Along with that uncut version online I included about eight or nine photos we had taken that day. I don’t know where the originals of those photos are. The online versions had been cropped and resized rather small because in those days a high-resolution screen was only 800×600 and the Internet was running at dial-up speeds that were at best 56K. My current Internet downloads at 200 Mb/s.

While digging through some memorabilia recently I found the original magazine and decided to put up a version that was “as published” rather than my director’s cut. I was shocked at the differences. My director’s cut was terrible. While there were some details that got cut that wish had stayed in, some of it rambled a bit incoherently at times. I’m hoping that what I had put up as “the original longer version” was actually an early draft. Some of the changes in the published version sounded like something I would write. So either editor Deborah Paul was good at fixing my mistakes in my style or this online version that I had up for a long time was actually an early draft. At least I hope so.

One of the things that surprised me upon rereading the story was how vividly I described things such as the smell of the place. In my writing, I’m not really big on describing the ambiance of a place. I’m much more comfortable with straightforward exposition. I often wonder how some authors can spend pages talking about how the sunlight glinted off the morning dew. That’s typically not my style. But when it came to the visceral experience of watching Indy cars go by at 200 mph and you are only 10 feet away from the fence, I did a pretty good job.

One thing that surprised me about the article was it said that at that race it was the first time I had seen a car hit the wall in person. I wondered if that was some sort of poetic license or exaggeration. The online version shows a photo of me at the track at age 6 and I told the story of how I made fun of the fact that a driver named Norm Hall had hit the wall. I thought it was funny that it rhymed. But I was sitting in the main straightaway and didn’t see it. I went to the track on practice and qualifying days many times throughout my childhood but we always sat in front of the pits. Through my high school and college days, I spent a lot of time at the track. But some of it was on the main stretch and some of it in the infamous Snake Pit infield area. In college, I spent lots of time touring the Gasoline Alley garage area with my video camera. I didn’t really start spending time in the wheelchair section in the South chute until the time this article was written. Sitting in that area for practice and qualifying as well as attending the race for several years I saw plenty of crashes. I mentioned in the article that the year before I had been there when a driver was killed. I heard the crash but did not actually see it. So it may have been true that that crash was my first in-person witnessing of wall contact.

I thought that while I’m at it, I would tell a couple of stories that were not in the article. I mentioned I had been at the track several years ago when driver Gordon Smiley was killed in a qualifying accident. My mom, her friend Georgianna, and Georgianna’s daughter Teresa who was severely disabled with cerebral palsy were sitting outside the third turn watching qualifying. We had seen several attempts to break 200 mph. I saw Smiley go by on a warm-up lap and I looked away at something else because he really wasn’t expected to be up to full speed at that point. I heard the crash and looked up and saw a cloud of debris sliding down the track out of sight. Later at home, we saw a reply on TV and the car had indeed completely disintegrated and his helmet could be seen rolling down the track. Many fans speculated at the time that he had been decapitated in his head was still in the helmet. I never heard any official word about that until I looked up the incident in the Wikipedia article linked below. It quotes the Speedway medical director saying that the helmet had come off along with the top of his skull. His brains were smeared across the track. There is a YouTube video link at the bottom that shows the crash. You can’t see anything identifiable of his body but you can tell how badly the car disintegrated.

Gordon Smiley was not a likable or popular person. He gave bad interviews and did not socialize with the other drivers. It was kind of sad to see the other drivers try to say something nice about him. The best they could say about him was “well… He wasn’t a very friendly guy and didn’t hang out with the other drivers but we are really sorry he died.

There was one other minor memorable event that day and this is as good a time to tell the story as any. I mentioned Mom’s friend Georgianna. They had worked together on various disability advocacy projects and worked in the volunteer agency that my Mom helped found known as the Council Of Volunteers and Organizations for the Handicapped (COVOH). Her daughter Teresa has very severe cerebral palsy. I think she was about 12 years old and it was so severe that she could not communicate at all. When she was uncomfortable, all she could do was moan or grunt. Georgianna repeatedly tried to reposition her in her wheelchair and guess what was bothering her to no avail. At one point she spread a blanket on the ground, took Teresa out of her wheelchair, and laid her on the blanket. The girl finally calmed down. Georgianna very matter-of-fact said, “Teresa isn’t dealing with her handicap very well today.” It was all that mom or I can do to not burst out laughing. It was one of the greatest understatements I’d ever heard. We weren’t laughing at the poor girl. It was just the way Georgianna had stated it. It was sort of a spoof on the idea that the goal of a person with a disability is to be well adjusted. Teresa was exhibiting the epitome of the opposite of that. In the years following, anytime I was having a bad day, I would say, “Chris isn’t dealing with his handicap very well today.” As my mother got older and had multiple medical problems including lung cancer she often used the phrase as well about herself whenever she was having a bad day.

Going back to stories specifically about the Speedway, the Gordon Smiley incident wasn’t the only time that we had encountered death at the Speedway. My mom had been there in 1964 when popular driver Eddie Sachs and rookie driver Dave MacDonald were killed in a fiery seven-car accident on the second lap. My mom was sitting on the main straight away but she could see the fireball and black smoke. There is a YouTube link at the bottom of the page that shows the crash. One of the views is from the main straight away and that we give you an idea of what my mother saw. She said it was sickening because they knew surely someone had been killed. I was at home in the backyard listening to the race on the radio. My next-door neighbor Mike Tillery had climbed up on the roof of a storage shed in his backyard to try to see the release of thousands of balloons at the beginning of the race. The fourth turn where the incident occurred is the closest corner to my house. Mike said, “Somebody crashed!” He could see the black smoke rising into the air and soon it rose high enough that I could see it as well on the ground. While researching this incident I read the Wikipedia article about Eddie Sachs and it explained in detail that the car that MacDonald was driving was an experimental design and many people had suggested he not race it because it was too dangerous. See the link at the bottom of the page. Although she did occasionally return to the track in subsequent years, she never attended the race again until we all went together in 1993.

Mom said that one of the eerie aspects of the incident was when track announcer Tom Carnegie came on the PA system to announce the deaths. He would begin with a solemn voice saying, “Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please.” After a brief pause, he announced the deaths. Everyone knew immediately what he was going to say because everyone was wondering if the drivers had survived and you could tell by the seriousness of his voice that he was about to announce that they did not. Neither Carnegie nor his successor Dave Calabro ever asked for your attention in that way unless they are about to announce a death. Mom said that on that day the entire Speedway became completely quiet except you could hear people had transistor radios that they were listening to the race. On the radio, they had not yet made the announcement. While we didn’t hear any radios on the day that Smiley died, it was a very eerie quiet when the announcement was made.

There was one other death at the Speedway and again, I heard it but did not see it. On May 17, 1996, Mom and I had parked in the Museum parking lot between the first and second turns on a practice day. Just as we were getting out of my van and heading towards the handicapped seating area, we heard tires screech and a crash. We later learned that it was a crash involving popular driver Scott Brayton. I listened on my scanner radio the rest of the day to hear how he was. At one point, I heard officials talking saying, “When are they going to make the announcement?” At that point, I knew he was dead. A few minutes later Dave Calabro came on the PA with the worst words in motorsports “Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please.”

In contrast to Gordon Smiley, drivers were quite shaken at the loss of Brayton. He was an extremely outgoing and likable person much like Eddie Sachs had been in his day. To give you an idea of the kind of man that he was, for several years they gave out an annual “Scott Brayton Award” given to a driver who “best exemplifies the attitude, spirit and competitive drive of Brayton.” I always thought of it as racing’s version of the Walter Payton award given by the NFL. According to Wikipedia, they have not given the award since 2009. I’m not sure why.

The story I recounted in the article was about the great seats that we had to watch the race but there was one other time in 2005 when I had the opportunity to see the track from the viewpoint I had never seen before. My friends from church Bill and Lydia Ritter invited me to come with them to the track for a reception in one of the suites on the main straight. Bill Ritter was the basketball coach at Northwest high school when I attended there. Because of his volunteer work which included a missionary trip to Africa and the fact that he was an all-around wonderful person, he had been inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Each year that group that invited to the track I practice day and he invited me and my parents to join him. We got to watch practice from the air-conditioned comfort of the suites and I also was able to take the elevator to the roof of the suites to get the spectacular view of the main stretch and the first turn. Except for the day when my dad carried me up about 10 rows when I was six years old, I had never seen the track from an elevated position. Here are a couple of photos from that great day thanks to my late friends Bill and Lydia.

The first time I had ever seen the Speedway from an elevated position in person. Thanks to my friends Bill and Lydia Ritter who invited me to an event on the main straight suites, I was able to ride an elevator to the roof of the suites where I could get this wonderful view.

Another view from the roof of the suites this time working back towards the entrance of the first turn.

For the most part, my memories of my years at the Speedway are fond memories. I remember the year that my cousin Johnny and I hung out in the snake pit on a rainy qualifying day. Some drunk guy climbed over the fence and ran down the track and naked. I remember the countless hours of girl watching at the track. I remembered the day I was on my way out of the track to meet my mom who is going to pick me up outside the tunnel at gate seven and the tire came off the rim of my wheelchair. I tried to limp onward on the rim but the tire got tangled up and disengaged the clutch on the motor and I was stranded. I was rescued by a stranger who was a journalist who covered the Speedway. I later found out that my rescuer was the father of Kathy Breen a friend of mine from church. I remember the thrill and excitement of every race I attended. I was there when they broke the 200 mile-per-hour barrier. I was there in 1996 when Arie Luyendyk set a track record of 237.498 mph. It is a record that will likely never be broken because after that they changed the formula for the cars to slow them down. I was there in 1994 when Jeff Gordon won the first Brickyard 400.

This year when Hélio Castroneves won his record-tying fourth Indy 500 I had to watch the race in bed because they couldn’t get a home health aide to come on the Memorial Day weekend. I cheered and cried when he won the race. When Al Unser, Jr won the race in 1992 he said with tears in his eyes, “You just don’t know what Indy means.” Maybe not… But it means a lot to me too.

Links of interest

A Weird Story about the Internet, the Indy 500, Cheesy Sci-Fi, and 60s TV.

In 1994, I wrote an article that appeared in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine about the first time I went to the Indy 500. I’ve been a lifelong race fan and had been going to the track for years but did not actually attend the race until 1993 when they built a new wheelchair-accessible grandstand that made it easy for me to attend.

A few years later when the Internet became a thing, I posted a longer version of that story on my website accompanied by several pictures I had taken that day. One of them was of actor Eric Braeden riding by in a pace car along with a parade of other celebrities. Here is the photo I posted with the online version of my article.

If you clicked on the photo, it took you to a page titled Dr. Forbin I Presume? showing a photo with the following text.

Here actor Eric Braeden speeds by in a pace car during pre-race festivities. He played a computer science genius, Dr. Forbin, in one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi thrillers Colossus: The Forbin Project and he played the German Field Marshall in the ’60s TV series The Rat Patrol.

He is however more widely known as the rich and powerful Victor Newman in the soap opera The Young and the Restless. (Which I’m embarrassed to say, I watch every day.) But part of me still thinks of him as Dr. Forbin.

The article was up for maybe two or three years before I got my first email in regards to the article. The first one was in reference to what I said about the TV show “The Rat Patrol“. It was a World War II action show that ran for 56 episodes from 1966-1968. The email was from a self-proclaimed expert on Nazi uniforms who explained to me that the character was not a Field Marshal but in fact a captain. It included a detailed explanation of the various patches and ornaments on his uniform. A simple search to IMDb also provided information that the character was called “Capt. Hans Dietrich” but I think the guy just wanted to show off how much he knew about Nazis like that was something one would brag about.

Sometime later, I got another email from a guy who had done a search on the 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project. This was in the days before Wikipedia and possibly for Google. I don’t know what search engine people were using but the guy had done a search on the movie and found my website. He had watched a movie late at night on some TV channel and had fallen asleep before it ended. I had said it was one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi thrillers that he wanted me to tell him how the movie ended. I obliged but I won’t spoil it here except to say it didn’t have much of an ending.

This was in the early days of the Internet. Today’s someone searching for information about the actor would never get to my old, hand-coded HTML webpage. That page still exists here: https://cyborg5.com/hcp/500/newman.htm. I did a Google search on the exact phrase “Dr. Forbin I Presume” which is the title of that webpage. Google couldn’t find it.

I don’t know what year I got those emails but those early days of the Internet when you could put up a tiny little handmade webpage and have people find you by thankfully long gone. Much more restorative sources exist than me.

You might wonder why tell the story now? I’m working on another installment of my Author’s Journal blog series and I was updating that old handwritten HTML version of the story to a WordPress page. I decided to create this blog post as a sidebar.

Author’s Journal: My First Book Published

This is the sixth in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

In January 1993 I published my first book. It was a book about computer graphics titled Ray Tracing Creations. Ray tracing is a way of making photorealistic computer-generated images. Unlike other rendering methods, ray tracing creates realistic-looking reflections. Technically I was a co-author who got second billing but about 60% or more of the book was my work. This is the story of how I got involved in ray tracing and how I came to write this book

CompuServe and Me

As I mentioned in my story about my magazine feature “The Reunion“, in the early 1980s I got involved in the online community known as CompuServe Information Service. It was a precursor to the Internet and predated much more popular America Online or AOL as it was called. CompuServe was a very expensive service costing up to $6 per hour to connect. I would not have been able to afford it if I didn’t get a job as a forum moderator/discussion leader on a variety of forums. In those days they were called “SysOps” which was short for System Operator. If you worked as a discussion leader or SysOp you would get a “free flag” which would give you free connect time as long as you are working in your designated area.

My first free flag was in a group called NipSig which was short for National Information Providers Special Interest Group. It was a meeting place mostly for newspaper people who were supplying content for CompuServe. And eventually was renamed Issues Forum because it turned into a general discussion group for politics and a variety of other issues. There was a subsection called “Handicapped Issues” and I was a discussion leader in that group. I met friends there that are still friends today and that was nearly 40 years ago. Most notably my friend Pamela Bowen who was a newspaper editor had encouraged me as a writer and gave me the courage to write that article about the reunion.

Online Sex

One of the subsections of the Issues Form was about sexuality and it eventually spun off into a forum of its own forum called HSX or Human Sexuality Support Groups. I moved over to that forum to lead a subgroup on disability and sexuality. That particular subgroup didn’t generate much activity. Only a handful of people participated in the forum. Once they had discussed their relationship issues related to their disabilities there wasn’t much else to talk about. When an opening came along for the head sysop of that forum I took the job. It wasn’t so much as a discussion leader but just the day-to-day maintenance of the message boards and upload areas screening for inappropriate content etc.

Go Graphics

If you were a full-fledged sysop and not just a discussion leader you would get a free account that was good anywhere on CompuServe, not just the area you managed. One of my favorite places to hang out was the Graphics Forum. In 1990 I left HSX and devoted full time to the graphics forum. I had been involved in the graphics forum for several years. I was there in 1987 when CompuServe first introduced a graphics file format called Graphics Interchange Format or GIF. When a revised standard came out in 1989 it included the specification for overlaying partial images in a way that could create very rudimentary animations. I wrote some software that would help piece together multiple images into a very crude animation. This was MUCH less sophisticated than the animated GIF files you see today.

My Claim to Fame

One of the popular things to do with this new format was to scan softcore porn images and upload them. There were special adult-only sections in the HSX and the Graphics Forum for these uploads. Although I cannot prove it, I am claiming that I made the very first animated porn image ever created in GIF format. I found a very grainy low-quality nude image and using a paint program painted on a pair of underwear. Then I animated it so that the underwear came off. I still have the image stashed away somewhere but as I said, I can’t prove that it was the first such image ever created. I know that 99% of the GIF images in existence at the time came through the CompuServe forums. I had one of the very first programs capable of creating an animation. So I’m confident it was the first animated porn GIF ever made. Now back to our regular story.

Ray Tracing

One of the subsections of the graphics forum was a gathering place for programmers involved in the open-source graphics rendering program. There was a guy named David K. Buck who had a program called DKB-Trace. He decided that he didn’t want to work on development anymore. He donated the code to a new team of developers led by a programmer in California named Drew Wells. Drew formed a new group and renamed the software Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer or POV-Ray for short. The program was completely text-based. Using the POV-Ray language you would specify the location and shape of various objects, their color, reflective properties, texture, transparency, etc. as well as the location and intensity of several light sources and location, direction, and field-of-view of a virtual camera. The program would then take this information and render a photorealistic image. It was all done with text that had to be parsed and converted into something that can then be rendered.

Sometime around 1990 perhaps 1991 I submitted my first piece of code to the project and eventually became a very active developer. I added code that allowed you to put in mathematical formulas to position objects. Previously you could just specify the X, Y, Z location of an object with raw numbers. Or you could initialize an identifier such as width, height, length to be particular values that can be referenced throughout the specification of your scene. But before the code I added, there was no way to put in a formula such as “width+index*5”. In my senior year of college, I had taken a graduate-level 600 course in compiler design so it was trivial for me to know how to parse an expression such as that. At one point the POV-Team gave me the nickname “parse meister”.

The Book Deal

Cover of my first published book Ray Tracing Creations. You can click on this image or any other images in this blog for larger versions.

In 1992 our team leader Drew Wells made a deal with a computer book publisher known as Waite Group Press run by a man named Mitch Waite. Drew was given the task of writing a book called Ray Tracing Creations. He had only written a very few short chapters and the book wasn’t going to be much of a book at the rate he was going. I don’t remember if I offered or if I was recruited to submit a reference section to the book. It would be detailed documentation of all the commands and functions available in the POV-Ray program. Below is the table of contents of the book. I wrote the introductory chapter which was 30 pages and the reference chapter which was about 230 pages. Another team member named Dan farmer wrote chapter 6 on animation that was about 30 pages. Drew wrote the remaining pages about 200 long.

Table of contents for Ray Tracing Creations. I wrote chapters 1 & 7.

Here are the “About the Author” pages. That blurry image of Drew really look that bad in the original book. It’s not that I did a bad scan of it.

I dedicated the book to my online friend Pamela Bowen who was a newspaper editor from Huntington WV. She had read much of what I had written long CompuServe including my magazine article “The Reunion” and I was so grateful that she had encouraged me to write that I had to dedicate it to her. People said “What you couldn’t have dedicated it to your mom or dad or something?” Later when we did the second edition of the book I dedicated it “To my parents… Who taught me that I could do anything.”

I believe the book sold about 6000 copies. I think I was paid a flat fee of maybe $1000 and Dan got a stipend as well but Drew got most of the royalties. Drew had lots of personal issues going on in his life and if I hadn’t stepped in to complete the book it would’ve never happened.

The book came with a 3.5″ floppy disk containing the program. Unbeknownst to the POV-Team in general, Drew had promised the publisher that they would have exclusive rights to distribute the program with a book. The problem was, the software was completely open-source. Anyone could make copies and distribute them however they wanted. There was only one official version but in general, it was a free program. When a couple of magazines decided to distribute our program on a disk with the magazine, the folks at Waite Group got pretty upset. We had to go through a lot to get them to defend our exclusive deal. We were constantly sending threatening letters to people telling them that they could not redistribute our program if it was bundled with some sort of print publication. The whole thing was a nightmare.

The Second Edition

Cover art for Ray Tracing Creations, Second Edition.

About a year later I was recruited to update and revise the book. This time it would be my book with Drew getting second billing. I don’t recall if he got any payment of royalties for the second edition. I know that I got real royalties this time. It was about $1 per book and it sold just under 6000 copies. Between the two versions of the book, we had made pretty extensive updates to the program and so this new version of the book reflected those changes. The book was also translated into other languages. Somewhere around here, I have a version in Portuguese that was sold in Brazil. I received a small one-time fee for the foreign language versions.

By this time Drew was completely missing in action and I had taken over management of the team. I refused to call myself the “team leader” and I retitled the job “team coordinator”. It was a reaction to the fact that Drew had led us into a real mess and I wanted to have a more cooperative group decision-making process. Hence the name “coordinator” rather than “leader”. I contributed a small section to a couple of other graphics books published by Waite Group Press and I was paid a small flat fee for the contribution.

My Big Failure

I don’t recall if it was after the second edition of Ray Tracing Creations or if it was between the two editions but at one point they wanted me to write a new book. This one would be entirely mine. It would be more of a tutorial on how to create images rather than a reference manual like the books I had written. There was a brief tutorial in Drew’s chapters but they wanted an entire book that was a how-to book rather than a reference.

I wrote a sample chapter that they liked and they sent me a contract to sign. The big problem was they wanted it done by a certain date. After writing another chapter or so, I realized that it was moving much too slowly. There was no way I was going to be able to complete the book in time. I kept putting off signing the contract and they would send me emails asking me what was wrong. Finally, I gave them a call and tried to talk to Mitch Waite himself. He was unavailable but I talked to one of the associate editors. I don’t remember his name.

I admitted to him that the reason I hadn’t signed a contract was that I was wrestling with the possibility that I just couldn’t do it. I asked him if I could have more time. I estimated it was going to take me maybe five or six months more than whatever deadline they had set. I’m thinking it was two or three months. I don’t remember.

They wouldn’t budge on the deadline. They said that the first book had created momentum and that they were on a schedule where they wanted to publish something every five or six months I think. I don’t remember. This was a rather small market and they were putting out a catalog of new titles to send to retail and wholesale book buyers. If I delayed, it would leave a hole in their schedule. I just gave up.

In July 1994, Ray Tracing Worlds with POV-Ray was published. They hired another POV-Team member Alexander Enzmann as the primary author. In our group, he went by the name Xander. Another team member named Lutz Kretzschmar who lived in Germany had written a program called MORAY that was sort of a primitive CAD graphics modeling program that would let you create objects in sort of a primitive wireframe version. It didn’t give you an accurate preview of what you’re scene was going to look like. After you created the wireframe preview, it would export files in POV-Ray format. They included a copy of his program and he contributed a chapter and got second billing as co-author. I contributed an appendix that outlined the difference between the earliest versions of POV-Ray and the latest one.

Now that I think about it, this book must have come out between the two versions of Ray Tracing Creations because I’m pretty sure my second edition covered a later version than the one bundled with Ray Tracing Worlds.

The reason that they were able to create the book so quickly is that much of it focused on how to use the CAD program. I had never used MORAY and would not have been able to write such a book.

As I mentioned earlier, the normal way of creating a scene to be rendered was to type it out in a special computer language as an ordinary text file. It takes a lot of time to explain how to do that. Using a CAD program is easier. Unfortunately, the MORAY didn’t support all of the features of POV-Ray.

I was disappointed we never did publish a book about the detailed usage of the text-based method of creating a scene. I considered the possibility of going ahead and writing the book on my own time and submitting it to them on spec but I was getting burnt out on working with the program and never did write that other book.

The Rest of My POV-Ray Story

I don’t remember exactly when, but shortly thereafter I stepped down as the team coordinator and handed things over to a guy named Chris Cason who lived in Australia. The program has gone through a couple of minor revisions since I left. Chris Cason still manages the team although I don’t know how active they are lately. I don’t think there’s been an upgrade in several years.

Other CAD software and rendering programs such as Autodesk Fusion 360 and Blender are easier to use and produce spectacular results. They are completely graphics-based and you can see what you’re working on while you are working on it. You don’t have the disadvantages of a clumsy text interface. They do not use ray tracing to generate images. Ray tracing is incredibly slow. However some of the advanced graphics cards being sold for PCs these days have ray tracing algorithms that produce accurate reflections that are not possible in other forms of rendering. Even Pixar has gotten into the ray tracing business. Some of the scenes in Cars 2 and later Pixar movies had ray tracing effects.

I initially got into ray tracing because I wanted to create my own images. In my teens and early twenties, I tried pencil sketches as a way to create art but I never got good at it. One of the things I learned the hard way is why artists paint on an easel. I had to lay my paper flat on a table to draw. I would prop up my head on my left hand and often my head was at an awkward angle. Some of the drawings didn’t look too bad until you pick the page up and looked at it directly. It had all sorts of distortions because I was drawing it looking at the page at an angle.

Eventually I lost much of the use of my hands so the only way I could create images was on the computer and ray tracing was the perfect way to do it.

In 1995, I made a Christmas card with a ray traced rendering of two angels hovering over the little town of Bethlehem and the Star of Bethlehem shining down on the city. I created a new ray traced Christmas card every year from then until Christmas 2019. There was one exception. In 2016 a few years ago I took angels from the 1995 image and found a way to export them in a format where I could make physical objects using my 3D printer. I also printed tiny buildings of Bethlehem and the Star. I pasted the star on a dark blue cardboard background and photographed the scene re-creating the 1995 image.

For Christmas 2020 I had completely run out of ideas. The cards were expensive to print and it was time-consuming. I didn’t send Christmas cards that year and probably will not this year.

One of my blogs http://graphics.cyborg5.com/ gives details about some of the images I’ve created and how I made them. Here is a photo album of all of my Christmas cards on my Facebook page. They are public images and you should be able to click on the link and see them even if you are not a member of Facebook.

I’m Looking for a New Roommate/Caregiver

I’m looking for at least one possibly two new roommates/caregivers. Although most of the people who read this blog post already know things about me. I’m going to start from the beginning and assume you know nothing because I want friends and family to be able to forward this post to as many people as possible whether they know me or not.

Who is Chris Young? And why does he need a roommate?

Hi, I’m Chris Young. That’s my photo on the left. I’m 65 years old (will be 66 in July 2021) I have a genetic neuromuscular disease similar to muscle dystrophy. It’s called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. You can read more about it here. I lived in the same house on the northwest side of Indianapolis in the Eagledale area just north of Speedway ever since I was three years old. My parents took care of me their whole life. We lost my mom 12 years ago and my dad two years ago. When my dad was ill, my sister Carol moved in to help take care of both of us but she needed to move on with her life so I began looking for a new roommate who could help be a caregiver.

My dear friend Barb Alkema and her adult son Josh moved in here in May 2019. They have been a great blessing in my life and have taken good care of me. But things change and situations evolve and it’s now clear that Barb needs to move on to new adventures. Her own health is questionable and she doesn’t want to get to the point where she gets incapable of taking care of me suddenly. Also, her boyfriend Ed who lives in Toledo is facing some challenges of his own and she feels she would be better suited to caring for him. I can’t blame her. She’s given me two good years of her life that has been a great blessing and I wish her, Josh and Ed well.

Barb and Josh will be leaving in a couple of months and my sister Carol will return to help me transition to whatever kind of care I will be getting next. I’m hopeful that I can recruit someone who would live here and help take care of me the way Barb has done the past two years. Carol can help out for a while but that is not a permanent solution to my problem. If I don’t find a long-term solution of someone else who can move in here, then I will have to choose a skilled nursing facility.

A couple of years ago I took a tour of one in Greenwood and it looks like it’s a pretty nice place. It’s clean, doesn’t smell, and there are other people there like me that I can associate with. I wouldn’t be stuck in the same wing with a bunch of Alzheimer’s patients who didn’t know what was going on around them. The room is small and I would have to share it with someone so it would really be a huge change for me. Obviously, I would like to stay in my own home as long as possible.

What Kind of Care Do I Need?

I need someone to be with me 24/7. It’s not safe for me to be alone at any time. I have a trach that helps me breathe and when my lungs get congested we suction out my trach with a suction catheter. I have a G-tube that I use for all my nutrition. I don’t eat anything by mouth (except when I cheat on special occasions). The problem is that my throat muscles are very weak and I have difficulty swallowing. If food or liquid gets into my lungs I’m in deep trouble. I also have a suprapubic catheter connected to a leg bag for urine.

I have a home health aide that comes in every morning at 9 AM to get me a bed bath, dressed, put on my back brace, and get me into my wheelchair. Throughout the day I need someone who can suction the trach as needed, do my G-tube feedings three times a day, and assist me with other minor tasks. Sometimes my back brace needs a little adjustment (a strap looser or tighter). Barb has been taking care of me during the day and she can put me to bed at night using a Hoyer patient lift. She has some medical issues of her own and it’s easier to get me to bed and disassemble me than it is to assemble me in the morning and get me up. Because of regulations, my home health aides are not permitted to do G-tube feedings, trach suctioning, and they are not permitted to be alone with me in case I need suctioning.

At night I use a ventilator. I’m not really dependent upon the ventilator for breathing. I just use it like a CPAP or BiPAP to help me sleep but you can’t use an ordinary CPAP/BiPAP when you have a trach.

Although the job of taking care of me is basically 24/7, I also have a respite nurse who comes for four and 1/2 hours twice a week. I could probably qualify for as much as 15 hours per week of respite nursing. Barb has been using that time to run errands, go to the gym (pre-pandemic), and go to doctor appointments. Some days she just goes out and takes a walk in the park while the respite nurse is here. Currently, she is scheduled for 9:30 AM-3 PM. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We can reschedule those hours at different times if we have lots of advance notice. For example, when Carol moves back here we will move my respite hours to evenings or weekends. One of the problems with respite nursing is it works best when it’s on a regular schedule. So we can’t just arbitrarily call up and say “We need someone at this time and date.”

Who Can Do This?

The short answer is anyone with a normal amount of physical ability. The trach suctioning and G-tube feeding are not rocket science. Although the home health aides are not permitted to do it while they are here, I’ve trained friends and family to be able to do these things. For example, if I go out to a movie, concert, or sporting event I take my portable suction machine with me and my friends or family take care of it as needed.

In addition to these activities there is also some slightly more gross stuff to deal with. My urine bag needs to be emptied. And in the evening after I go to bed is usually the time when I need to get on the bedpan. It is not difficult to get me on or off the bedpan. You roll over, stuff it underneath me, roll me back on top of it. After I’ve finished my business you have to roll me off, wipe my butt, and clean up the bedpan.

You would be responsible for maintaining the house, cleaning, laundry, your own cooking etc. The kinds of things you would be doing if you were on your own.

I have a van with a wheelchair lift. I need to be taken to doctor’s appointments and whatever other activities I might need to do. However I don’t really get out very much.

At one point I was thinking perhaps a couple of college students would be good roommates but trying to juggle their schedule, nursing schedules etc. might be pretty difficult. Having had Barb here for two years who is on disability but still somewhat physically capable I’m thinking someone like her who is perhaps physically fit but recently retired might be a good candidate. There is no smoking in the house. Barb and Josh smoke on the back porch or in the unheated garage during the winter. No heavy drinking. No recreational drugs. I really prefer no pets even though Barb brought 4 cats with her. She keeps the litter box well cleaned and if you brought pets I would expect the same. As I told my friends when Barb moved here, given a choice between 4 cats and a nursing home I would get used to the cats. Still, it’s not my preference.

When someone asks who is Barb? I describe her as a friend, roommate, caregiver in that order. She’s my friend first, my roommate second, and my caregiver third. I would hope to build such a relationship with another person.

Is There Any Other Help Available?

Because my current roommate Barb was able to be here virtually 24/7 (except when the respite nurse was here) I did not qualify for any other assistance except for the home health aide in the morning. However when my sister was living here while my dad was ill and after he died, we were able to get nine hours per day of nursing service five days a week so that she could go to work. Unfortunately, that system just barely worked. Even though we had reasonably reliable people, there were always incidents where someone had to call in sick at the last minute, their car would break down, their children or other family had issues. Sometimes they just needed to take some time off for vacation. It was extremely difficult to get replacement nurses, especially for last-minute schedule changes. That meant that my sister Carol would end up either going to work late or not at all. I have other friends who sometimes are able to fill in in an emergency situation but they have lives of their own and cannot always help.

So while technically I could have a roommate with a full-time job, it would be better if I had someone who is retired or available throughout the day. The nursing support just isn’t foolproof. After Barb moves out in a few months, my sister Carol will be here a few more months. She currently has a work-from-home job working for the Indiana 211 Information Line. Thanks to the pandemic (if you can say such a thing), many people are now working from home. As long as you could take a minute or two breaks when I needed something, a work-from-home person would be ideal.

What Does It Pay?

Short answer… Not much. You get free rent, free cable (including HBO and Showtime), free Internet, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, free utilities, use of a desktop computer, use of the entire house, your own bedroom. And that’s about it. However recently thanks to a benefactor, I might be able to pay a small stipend or provide some additional expense money. My resources that I could devote to this could be as much as $1000 per month. However, if I have more than one roommate, that $1000 is the grand total per month. I could not afford that per roommate. I’m still working out some of the details about how this compensation would work. So the benefit really is all in the free housing.

My house has 4 bedrooms. One is mine and one is my office although if we needed another bedroom I could move my computers and other office stuff into the family room. We have a bath and 1/2. Air conditioning, washer and dryer. Refrigerator, gas stove, microwave, and dishwasher. The dishwasher was a big selling point when Barb moved here :-).

More about Me

I’m pretty easy to get along with. I’m addicted to TV. I love sci-fi and action movies. I’m basically a nerd. I have a BS degree in computer science from IUPUI. I write technical articles about assistive technology. I designed and built a variety of AT gadgets including a gadget I call my “Ultimate Remote” that allows me to control my iPhone, TV, cable, computer mouse, and other gadgets all with just three little pushbuttons in my right hand. Below is a video that my friend Bill made when he was helping me make a new version of my remote control. While he was here, I took him on a tour of all of my assistive technology and gadgets. The video below will give you a little more idea of what I’m capable of doing or not doing and how my gadgets work. It talks a little bit about my day-to-day life.

Here are some other links of interest.

Also browse around this blog and other blogs that are available on the menu at the top of this page. It will help you get to know me better.

What You Can Do

First of all pray. Pray that the right person is available to keep me out of a nursing home. If you don’t believe in prayer just wish me luck.

Think about your family, friends, colleagues, people from church, social circles, everyone that you know, and think about whether or not they might be able to help me out. Feel free to forward this article to anyone you want to and have them forward it or repost it as well.

Finally if by chance, you might be interested in free rent in a nice house, free cable, free internet, interesting company from a smart and funny guy, all in exchange for being stuck here with me most of the time and wiping my butt as needed… Then contact me. Email me at cy_borg5@cyborg5.com and we can talk via Zoom, Facebook, FaceTime, or phone and/or set up an in-person meeting. Let’s talk about the possibilities and perhaps we can work something out to our mutual benefit.

And keep praying.