Tag Archives: Musings

Look Man, No Thyroid!

I think thyroids are the next tonsils.

As in, “Well it’s your twentieth birthday. Time to get your thyroid removed.”

That leaves a year for them to get the Synthroid right before you start imbibing in other drugs. Ever since I had my thyroid removed a year ago, I’ve heard about more people with thyroid problems, or scars just like mine, even as recently as last night. I hate to admit that my first question is not, “how are you doing?”, it’s “who you getting to do the surgery?” or “wanna see my scar?”

At least in my head. Usually there’s a relay somewhere that kicks into place that prevents these kinds of inane questions from spilling out.

I had thyroid cancer, and Hoshimotos, plus hyperparathyroidism (the exact opposite of what Randy had on Home Improvement). My “very special episode” was a year ago this Sunday. The James Cancer hospital has been sending me mail, asking me to go to support groups, or a Cancer Survivor’s tailgate.

I’m watching the game at home.

As I talked about six months ago, I had a “brush with cancer“, lowercase c. I don’t feel part of this community. In fact I’m not exactly sure what community I’m a part of (all I know is Catherine Bell had pretty much the same thing and starred on JAG for eight years).

They said my scar would get better, and it has, but not as much as I’d like. It twitches, it’s uncomfortable under shirts, and it’s a little obvious when not under shirts. And the surgery it represents saved my life. I get a few more headaches than I used to, and if I don’t keep the synthroid steady I pay for it with tired sluggish days, but otherwise things are the same.

I’m certainly grateful, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t know what to make of having “cancer” at 26, or not really being able to call it cancer. I don’t talk about it much, but I think about it. But my thinking isn’t really going anywhere. I’m kind of in a loop, waiting til the day my scar fades enough that I can forget about it.

I feel like having thyroid cancer is a trial run for what a real crisis will be like. You have lasting reminders, the pills you take every day (green now instead of purple), and a scar that realistically will take years to fade. You have a fair bit of uncertainty that comes with any surgery. But you don’t do chemo, you don’t even usually have to do radiation (I haven’t). I didn’t lose my hair, my appetite, or miss much work. I do quarterly blood draws, and gets some regular checkups and that’s it. No real worries about recurrence, few daily physical impacts. You really should try it. It’s fun on the bun.

Sensed a bit of gallows humor yet? When I had the cancer I got a box of milk duds and joked that they were cancer bites, since they were about the right size. Very inappropriate I know.

Maybe in another six months I’ll have more to say, but I’m not sure. It’s hard to know in life which experiences you should just let fade away, and which you should hold onto, try to learn from. I am technically a “cancer survivor”.

Maybe one of these days I won’t need the quotes.

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Making Good Use Of Feeling Bad

There’s a piece of common wisdom about writing:

Some of the best creative moments are when you’re frustrated, angry or sad. The key is to channel those emotions into your work.

I don’t emotionally channel. I compartmentalize.

It’s been kind of a rough week (especially the weekend). Have I gone on a creative bender?

No.

Mainly I’ve played a lot of System Shock 2 and watched King of the Hill. When I’m at work, I’ve been diving into tough development projects, keeping my brain busy solving engineering problems that have a solution.

I’m not saying that emotional experiences can’t be the inspiration for good work. But I don’t like the idea of using writing as a coping mechanism. I have used writing, including several pieces on this blog, to express thoughts and feelings I’ve been mulling over for a while. But when I write those pieces, I’m not doing it in the midst of the feelings I’ve been having. The closest I ever came was a year ago when my character was saying a prayer that at the time fit what I was feeling as much as it did for him. That might have been half a page.

Emotions should play a role in understanding how your characters are thinking and feeling in a situation, but the writing process itself is a fairly unemotional process (at least for me). If I wrote based solely on my moods I wouldn’t write at all. Discipline and daily exercise are what make for better writing (among other things).

Maybe there are pieces or projects that make sense to sink one’s emotional energy into. For me, that energy is better spent shooting cyborg ninjas and wondering when a scary female AI is going to betray me.

Do you “channel” your emotions onto the page?

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It’s All Coming Back To Me Now

I’ve been retreading some old ground lately.

Some of it’s nostalgia. Watching old TV shows I like to watch, remembering things through chance find that I had almost forgotten (like Making Fiends). But more than that, I’m going back to some of the ideas and passions that fascinated me a number of years ago.

I guess it started with NaNoWriMo. I made my novel project for that month the redrafting of my high-school first novel (which holds the place as my first or my third book depending on when you ask me). It had been years since I had thought about those characters, those scenarios. Some things were familiar, and played out as they had before. Others changed, grew deeper or at least different. The reasons are obvious, I’m not the same guy I was in high-school. I’ve had more experiences, refined my writing process, and have new ideas about what’s interesting to explore.

And yet I still find myself coming back to a few old standbys.

Recently it’s been Fractals. It’s been years since I’ve seriously done any fractal programming or research but as those who follow the blog regularly will know, I’ve gotten back into them with a vengeance. I’m even considering having a Friday Fractal of the month (or fortnight) feature on the blog to showcase some of the behind the scenes work I’m doing at the moment. I don’t know what brought me back exactly (a NOVA special and a certain ridiculously tall writer friend of mine might have had something to do with it), but I find that even though that particular passion has laid dormant for so many years, it has lost none of its vigor.

There’s always a push as a writer and as a person to keep trying something new. To embrace a new project, or new TV show, or a new passion. But revisiting old thoughts is necessary as well, and can often lead to new ideas and projects. Nothing is ever too old to be reconsidered.

What things do you keep coming back to? What is that experience like for you?

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When Should I Talk About Writing?

I used to have a rule about when I was allowed to talk about writing. If I had not worked on my book in the last 24 hours I could not talk about it. It didn’t matter whether it was drafting new material, or revising as long as I had been working on the book. The idea behind this was two-fold. One was to motivate me to actually do work on the book, since I love talking about it, and two was to limit the amount of times I was bombarding others.

We all want to talk about our passions, even when we know that those around us do not care. Actually, it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they don’t want to dicuss the subject as often or in as great of detail as we would if given the opportunity.

I especially have a tendency to voice every little idea I have in my head, usually to my wife. I do like to have a sounding board, and there are times when these interactions are great, but you have to pick your moment. Sometimes I sit on an idea for a while, just to make sure it wasn’t a flight of fancy, before really getting into it with someone else.

I thought for a while that the blog would be helpful in this regard, and sometimes it is. It’s a great proving ground for ideas and stories, and for a while I thought that it would slake my thirst for talking about writing all the time. It’s actually had much the opposite effect, I end up talking about the blog and the writing constantly. Talking with fellow writers also has the same effect. The more you talk about something, the more you want to talk about it with others.

My rule worked for when writing was something I did from time to time, but since I’ve made it my daily business, I need a new rule (and probably one for talking about computers as well).

Maybe I need to be a little more deliberate, choose specific times and places, instead of while my wife is cooking dinner. It’s not wrong to be excited, to be passionate. In fact some people even find these qualities attractive. But there is a difference between being passionate and yammering on about something. Maybe instead of talking so much, some doing is necessary.

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Writing Takes Writing, Faith Takes Faith

In order to write about writing you have to actually write.

This may seem like a bit of an obvious statement, but one that I’m reminded of as I’m working through a slightly drier period of working on my books. I’m not speaking specifically of the act of creating (though creating does have its own special joy), but simply of doing anything productive toward the writing goal, whether it is looking up literary agents, writing query letters, revising drafts, or even reading.

Put another way, in order to gain insight on something, especially insight worth sharing, you need to get around to laborious doing of that thing once and a while.

I think this applies to all apsects of life, but another area where I feel challenged by this idea is my faith.

I don’t read the Bible every day, nor do I do some other sort of quiet study on a regular basis. I pray a few times a week, usually in life group or form prayers before meals. I believe, but when asked the question “how is God working in your life right now?”, I’m really not sure how to answer it. I call myself a Christian much like someone who starts the first chapter of a novel and then puts it aside for months calls himself a writer. Technically it’s true, the writer did write something, but there’s a substantial difference between someone who practices the writing or the Chrisitan life, and someone who dabbles.

I do feel God challenging me in different ways in my life (writing this blog post is part of that), as well as giving me a passion for various causes, like labor conditions in China. These are good things, but they require a good grounding as well. Just as the writer reads other authors to gain insight on the writing craft, so should I as a Christian read the Bible, and make myself aware of Christian thought throughout the centuries, not just my own perceptions in the now.

This blog is a good challenge as well. I want this to be a blog about writing, and on the way faith impacts my writing and other things I care about. If I let the blog lay stagnant, if I don’t post new ideas or new thoughts for a couple of weeks, then readership begins to taper off. Having a group to whom I speak 4-5 times a week requires that I have something to say.

I’m not sure if today is the day I’ll get into better regular habits with the Bible or with writing, but it is something I’m praying for.

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Why Is That Man Running Through The Street Naked?

“Loafing is the most productive part of a writer’s life”  – James Norman Hall

I stayed up too late last night playing video games. I don’t do this very often anymore, as most of my time that isn’t spent at work or with my wife is spent working on THE NOVEL(s). But waiting for “the next save point” may actually help my creative process, at least according to Jonah Lehrer.

Lehrer’s latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works  explores the different ways in which innovative thoughts originate, and the ways some companies are trying to adapt to the ways people really create.

Creative thinking seems to come out of two kinds of activity, rest versus rigor. There are times when we are beating our heads against a problem and are unable to come up with a solution until we take a moment to relax (say like Euclid in the bathtub). Other times our best and most refined work comes out of the discipline of doing a thing every day.

For me, blogging has been a good example of this second kind of creativity. I try to post four times a week at the same time each day. Some days, like today, I really don’t know what I’m going to write about until an hour or so before (sometimes only minutes). The discipline of writing every day gets me in the habit of creating something every day, and in turn seems to make coming up with ideas easier.

For a while.

I definitely fall more into the rigor camp of creativity. I don’t like to “wait around for my muse to speak to me”, and I think most productive writers adopt similar habits. But rest can be just as important for coming up with the big ideas. Lehrer’s Fresh Air interview sites numerous examples of creative people “burning out” for a while, then suddenly having the insight that made them famous. Thus, I’m not just playing Anachronox, I’m giving my brain the space to come up with new ideas.

Riiight.

But the thing I agree with Lehrer on the most is the importance of letting yourself go. Whether it’s the “punch the keys, damnit!” line from Finding Forrester, or thinking about how a child would solve a problem, or simply getting a little drunk or tired, removing your inner censor can often help you to make connections you wouldn’t otherwise make. Some of my best (and my worst) writing has been done when I’m tired. Even the good stuff is in serious need of revising of course, but I might not have come up with the idea at all if I hadn’t allowed myself to be in a little more flexible state of mind.

How about you? When do you get your best ideas (in the shower? on your commute? etc.). Do you find yourself more inclined to rest or to rigor?

(A bit of an aside: Though it’s a rough read, the Calliope story from Sandman’s: Dream Country explores some interesting ideas about sources for inspiration, and what can happen to a person if they get too many ideas at the same time.)

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Life’s Simple Answers

“We want an answer to Life, The Universe and Everything. Something simple.”

A few weeks ago the republican candidates for president were asked to define themselves with one word. Their choices were Consistent, Courage, Resolute and Cheerful (I’ll let you guess who said what).

For myself I’ve chosen three words: Writer, Programmer, Singer.

I think we like simple answers, but even with three times as many words there’s a lot about myself I’ve left out.

For starters I could add “christian”, as my faith informs all three of these passions in my life. Now that I’m married “husband” wouldn’t be a bad choice, and hopefully someday “father”.

But even with additions there’s a lot I’m leaving out. I used to sing, but I haven’t been part of a choir for over a year. I’m working as a programmer, but rarely create any programs for myself. I love to write, but there is still so much more I am striving to achieve before I feel I can change “writer” to “author”.

Something about life defies an easy answer. If it didn’t 42 would be as good an answer as any.

I like the complicated answers, the ones that take time and discussion to muddle out. My dad and I have been talking about classic literature and thought. There’s a conversation that’s been happening through human thought and literature from the days of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates to the modern thinkers of today. It takes place in styles of literature, in ideas, in science, in all areas of life.

I want to be part of this conversation.

Some fun in honor of this our 42nd post:

I had a little fun with Yahoo’s Babel fish doing some back and forth translation. I started with the following phrase in English, “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy“, and translated it into a number of different languages and back again to English. Here are the results:

Chinese: The traveller guides to the galaxy
French: The hitch-hikers guide with the galaxy
German: Tramper lead to the galaxy
Italian: The Hitchhikers guides to the galaxy
Japanese: The hitchhiker leads to the galaxy
Portuguese: The Hitchhikers guides to the galaxy
Russian: Hitchhikers direct to the galaxy
Spanish: The hitchhikers direct to the galaxy

If you had some other words to describe the Republican candidates you are not alone. The Daily Beast posted some word clouds that sum up public opinion. You can see them here.

I’ve added a Blogroll to the site and have a few other updates planned. Stay tuned!

And finally

What one word (or three) would you use to describe yourself?

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