Thanksgiving 2018

Nov 21, 2018 by

Thanksgiving 2018

My how the year has flown. Preparations are underway for Thanksgiving 2018. The Christmas decorations are already in place–three trees inside this year–four if you count the Charlie Brown tree–and the special Christmas City across the bar between the dining room and kitchen needs to annex another area, perhaps it moves to under one of the trees next year. Some say I should wait to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but I never do anymore. I want to get the most out of what Christmas can be and decorating, particularly early, gives me hope.

Maycee, looking for Janet’s damned stray cats or Santa Claus, Thanksgiving 2018.

My three girls are coming tomorrow. This year Chandler, the eldest, is bringing a cheesecake. The elder twin, Reagan, has made dressing for her friends at work by having me FaceTime with her and talk her through the process. Haley, the younger twin (by seven minutes) has made a family favorite–chicken broccoli casserole. I don’t know if she’s bringing any with her tomorrow, but it has been a joy the past few months to see traits in me come bursting out of the girls that I didn’t realize I’d ingrained in them so deeply.

This is an unexpected side of parenting that I’ve not experienced before, at least not to this degree–not since they have become so independent as they have become. They are encountering the hardships that life has to offer and to break the pain or strain of a situation, they’re resulting to some of my jokes to cheer each other up, and doing so when I’m not there. “This is when Dad would say … ” and then they all chuckle and giggle and it’s funny to them because they know I’d be there to add levity to a situation that has none.

That gives me comfort as I grow older, as I deal with the pain that has been inflicted upon my body the past two and a half years and feels like it’s never going to leave. But things like what I’ve mentioned above, the cooking of my recipes, the telling of my bad jokes, gives me hope, courage and comfort. I’ll be missed when I am gone, but I’ll also keep on living through my girls–no sons.

And that realization is probably the best and truest blessing God could bestow on me this Thanksgiving.

It’s been another hard year of dealing with the pain in my back. The lumbar is still wreaking havoc. This summer and fall, the thoracic spine has been out of whack. Hopefully, before New Year’s and the out-of-pocket reverts to a massive sum on the first, a lot can be done to at least settle my thoracic down. Other ailments have cropped up I never would have guessed possible. My doctors are working on those.

But my daughters are growing up into fine young women and I’m more proud of them each and every day. My church family has stood by me even though my attendance, largely because of the fatigue from the Crohn’s disease and back pain, has been dismal. And I’ve met some great people in the medical field who truly care about the health and well-being of others.

And of course, I have to mention Maycee, my dog. Yes, she barks to ward off my next-door neighbor Janet’s damned stray cats, and she can’t stand the neighbor at the end of the building who owns the German Shepard, but Maycee loves me in a way I cannot describe. Anyone who says dogs don’t know how to love their owners clearly has cats.

I will miss lunch tomorrow with my three brothers, sister and Mom as they gather in Montgomery, Alabama. Dad will eat with family in Northern Indiana. I wish I could be in three places at once. Nonetheless, I am so thankful for the love of my daughters and dog, Maycee. I could not have made it through 2018 without the four of you. There is just no way. Thank you. Now God bless us every one.


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Passively Suicidal

Oct 27, 2018 by

Passively Suicidal

Passively Suicidal–That’s a new term I’ve learned, something I’ve become because of the pain I’ve been in the past two and a half years. Mental health professionals who are treating me say I am at risk.

I am not having ideations, I don’t have a plan, I don’t want to harm myself or anyone else. That’s what makes it passive. I’ve just been through so many surgeries, procedures to evaluate what’s causing pain in my back, had my hopes raised and dashed, had epidurals, rhizotomies, an ENG, a needle while I was conscious put into my Lateral Femoral Cutaneous Nerve, haven’t been able to walk 15 yards without wanting to cry out in pain, (I can go about 100 yards at present), can’t stand up without being in great pain, can’t roll over without pain shrieking around from my T9-10 discs around my rib cage making me not want to breathe, and then this week, after a colonoscopy last Friday–one I had to have again this year because last year I had a  large obstruction and we had to do it again this year to ensure I didn’t have cancer–my doctor found I have a new problem, Crohn’s Disease, one that explains the incredible fatigue and lack of ability to concentrate that’s been increasing in recent months–well, all that is what makes it passive.

That is what led me to get in the car Wednesday of this week and drive to a local psychiatric hospital in Dallas and ask whether or not I needed to be admitted. They decided I didn’t since I’m not having ideations. Since I have no plan to harm myself or anyone else. Since I just feel hopeless and helpless.

In February of 2017, a psychiatrist interviewed me before they put in my pain stimulator and said he was surprised I wasn’t depressed already.

“Welcome to the party, pal,” said John McClain.

So Why Should I Share This With The World?

Wouldn’t it be better to keep all of this private? Well, maybe. But here’s the thing. God has me on a journey. I’m supposed to be learning from all of this. And what good is all this knowledge if it is kept secret? The whole point of learning and telling stories is for them to have some meaning. For the person on the journey to have gained some knowledge and to share some secret elixir gained from his/her quest.

A few years ago I lost a brother-in-law who wasn’t passive when it came to suicide.

My precious sister still struggles with the mess of his decision. Her kids, too.

November 11, my sister Kim is having a walk in her neighborhood as part of a national program to raise awareness about Suicide Prevention. If you’re in Montgomery, Alabama you can sign up at

Now that I have seen the light of this darkness, I feel obligated to share.

I am in a scary place.

I believe in God. But I have been so ill, sore, hurting, and tired, I’ve not been able to make it to church in months. My sleep schedule is shot to hell and back. Last Sunday I got up on time to go. By the time I was shaved and showered and ready to get dressed, I was still in the window of time where I could make it to first services. But I was exhausted from the exertion of getting ready. So I got back in bed. And slept. I got up at 11:30. Ate lunch. Read a little. And then slept another two or three hours. Read some more. Had dinner. Read some more. Then went to bed.

But here’s the thing. When I sleep, I don’t sleep for more than two or two and a half hours at a time.

A Hard Thing To Do

Getting out of the car Wednesday and walking into the hospital was hard. I kept hearing the voice of my father, a former Air Force instructor pilot scoffing at me. An Air Force pilot would, in his days, never have been caught near a hospital like that. When I came out afterward, Dad had seen the group texts and called me. Said he was proud of me for going to the hospital.

Regardless, it was hard to go in there. Would they keep me? What about my dog? Who would take care of her? What about all the other doctors’ appointments I have scheduled? How would I get to them? If they took my phone how would I schedule the mylogram (spinal tap with dye and then CT scan of my spine) I have for this coming Wednesday? I could think of so many reasons not to walk through that door.

But I knew the depth of the tunnel was getting further and further from the light.

Don’t Be Afraid

If you are in the same place, (maybe not in the same pain, but discouraged–not wanting to kill yourself, but wouldn’t be sad if you didn’t wake up tomorrow) I encourage you to be brave and take the step toward the light. The medical professionals whom I have met all have been kind and caring. I’ve yet to meet Nurse Ratched. They want to help. In my day program yesterday, even the other clients/patients were friendly and wanted to help. At first I had trouble deciding if they were patients or therapists they were so helpful. I was overwhelmed with kindness.

Take the first step if you need to. Please. Don’t live with this elephant on your shoulder. Get some help. Your family needs you. That’s what I have kept telling myself all along.

And somewhere in all of this, God has a plan for me.

And as my friend Kim has told me from Bible class, I have a biblical name I’m supposed to adopt from my trials. At this writing, it seems like it must surely be Job.


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When Life Gives You Lululemons

Oct 1, 2018 by

When Life Gives You Lululemons

It was something out of character for me to read Lauren Weisberger’s When Life Gives You Lululemons, almost like picking up Cosmopolitan magazine I would think and reading it cover to cover. But several weeks ago it was big on the New York Times Bestseller Hardcover List and it spent several weeks there and in my quest to become a better reader, I bought it, read it, and studied the novel in hopes of it making me a better reader.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

To her credit, Weisberger at least knows that U.S. senators don’t ride around in limousines all the time like Lisa Wingate errantly seems to think in Before We Were Yours in modern day South Carolina.

Weisberger’s plot hinges on a senator being in cahoots with a local police department being able to frame his wife with DUI on a holiday and a Hollywood-based spin doctor being able to get her out of trouble after finding the senator’s wife and the spin doctor have a mutual friend in the suburbs of Connecticut. So the story winds around the three women who learn new things about themselves–mostly about the spin doctor who learns that she’s not a washed up spin doctor and that there is more to life than helping the country’s elite lie their way out of their sick problems. So much so that at the end of the book … well, I don’t do spoilers, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

When I read books I usually actively underline passages that I might like to come back to or find insightful about the human experience. I didn’t underline anything in this book.

This is/was not my genre and it does have a happily ever after ending. How nice. But if you want to read anything that’s based upon reality or anything that will advance the cause of humankind, this is not the book.


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One of those ‘God Things’

Sep 22, 2018 by

One of those “God Things”

There are times in life when I’ve found myself saying I’m in the middle of one of those “God Things.” Where no amount of my own pushing seems to be getting my anywhere, and then when it’s God’s time, things click right into place.

The seal of The Grammatic Artist.

Over the past three or four weeks now I’ve been working on the premise for a book project. I actually have a very well developed Hero’s Journey. The story takes place in two worlds. One where my primary character is having a dream/encounter where an angel has appeared and is taking him to a meeting with God. On the outside world, he’s on his way to the funeral of his maternal grandfather, the last of his grandparents, and the woman who takes the seat next to him on the flight, not his wife–she has declined to go with him–tells him it sounds like to her he’s grieving a lot more than the loss of his grandfather.

The day I really got to working on the plot of the Hero’s Journey, I found myself at Kinkaid’s Hamburger’s with my own personal mentor Ron Rose. The discussions we had were timely to what each other were doing. The conversation itself became on of those God Things.

As I continued working, things have fallen into place in like manner.

This past Monday I spent an hour with my preacher who suggested I do more to punch up the ferociousness my lead character has when he has his meeting with God, assuming this is a work of fiction. One I’m trying to make more mainstream than a Christian novel.

Then tonight, I met someone at a Mexican restaurant who it sounds like can help me punch up some of the scenes I’ve been struggling with. Another God Thing. She herself has written a book about finding God in unlikely places. I ordered hers from Amazon already. What are the odds?

I’m behind in my book reviews–nine books behind right now–When Life Gives You Lululemons, The Summer that Melted Everything, Imagine Me Gone, My Name is Lucy Barton, Are you There God? It’s Me Margaret, The Outsider, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, Across the River and Into the Trees, and Tailspin, all because I’ve been working on this new book idea.

But that’s okay, because I’m into one of those “God Things,” and when those are happening, well, anything can happen from there….

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My Summer Vacation 2018

Sep 6, 2018 by

My Summer Vacation 2018

During my summer vacation 2018 I travelled the world and never left North Texas. How’s that? I read 40 novels and visited at least three other continents, eight other countries, and many other US cities, all from my living room. And I’ve tried to keep a list of the people I’ve met, but it’s well over 100, so I’ve quit counting. Oh, and I traveled back and forth through time. That is an important point I need to emphasize because when it came to Paris, that really sent my mind for a whirl.

The seal of The Grammatic Artist.

So what did I read this summer and how did I pick the books?

My Summer Reading List

I have been reading straight fiction with a purpose since December 2016. My goal is to read 101 works of fiction in order to improve my writing as a fiction author. Already I have seen improvement in my work, but it was midway through this summer’s reading when a light bulb came on in my head and showed me that I need to work harder at raising the stakes and writing more passionately about the human condition. My perspective about writing, the innocence of telling a story shifted, and as much as I disliked reading Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, I have to admit, I think that’s the book that awakened me to what I just explained. I didn’t like his book because I thought he was a little too much like Henry James, and packed what he could say in four pages into 20. But the realness of the book, the human emotion, the rawness, that spoke to me, and I’ve seen it, looked for it, or been aware of it not being there in every book I have read since.

So what are the 40 books I read this summer?

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

The Torrents of Spring, Ernest Hemingway

The Figure in the Carpet Henry James

The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway 

EileenOttessa Moshfegh

Animal Farm, George Orwell

The OverstoryRichard Powers

The Captives, Debra Jo Immergut 

10 Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

11 Warlight, Michael Ondaatje

12 The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin

13 Your Destination is on the Left, Lauren Spieller

14 The President is MissingBill Clinton and James Patterson

15 Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler

16 The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

17  Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Oscar Wilde

18 A Long Way From Home, Peter Carey

19 My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh

20  The Pearl, John Steinbeck

21 The Human StainPhilip Roth

22 The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante

23 The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne 

24 Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

25 There There, Tommy Orange 

26 The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

27 The Woman in the Window, A. J. Finn

28 When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger

29 The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel

30  Across the River and into the Trees,  Ernest Hemingway

31 Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout 

32 Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett

33 My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout 

34 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

35 The Outsider, Stephen King

36 On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

37 The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

38 To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway

39 The Waters and the Wild, DeSales Harrison

40 Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate

Where Have I Been This Summer?

In reading 40 books, you’d think I’d been to a lot of unique places, but that’s the thing, it seemed like I ended up in some more frequent locations, just at different times. But that’s okay. There were lessons to be learned in this regard as well, particularly when it comes to Paris.

And this happened by chance, it was not planned. You see, I have been making a careful study of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and their days in Paris in the 1920s and early 1930s. Add in Paula McLain’s perspective with The Paris Wife, told through the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, fictionally, then you have a pretty good idea of what Parisian life was like pre-World War II. Then when you pick up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and read about the Nazi’s invading Paris and rounding up the Jews, well, then your head does a weird emotional turn–probably something very similar to what it was like when the Nazis were taking over and rounding up the Jews and sending them away, shooting people in the streets, and it becomes hard to comprehend and imagine in juxtaposition to the color and magic described by Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

I would not have had this experience had I not invested so much time with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and McLain in advance and then read Hannah.

But this is just one instance.

I came to the belief that drunken women on pills should be its on genre in bookstores, only to realize that this is an old trope itself–Valley of the Dolls, which I’ve not read. Regardless, it is prolific in today’s modern literature. And it sells. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but it does. Ottessah Moshfegh’s book this summer hit the New York Times Bestseller list for one week with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window spent weeks this summer on the NYT bestseller list. (Both stories centered in NYC).

Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home  took me on a road race in the 1950s around the continent of Australia and then got side tracked in an Aboriginal camp.

The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway took me fishing and bullfighting in Spain. I didn’t realize it got so hot there in the summer. 

I re-read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and had forgotten about the racism and greed and evil that can come from having found a gem like that. 

I made it to Africa with Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh. Though the book was somewhat confusing at times, it was nonetheless a good commentary on the news media.

Then there were the books on Maine–Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. How it was I managed to read them back-to-back the Lord will only know, but that’s how my reading adventures seemed to work out.

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything brought me to Ohio.

There and Back Again

What have I learned? I think in many ways, I’m still figuring that out. I have noted that I need to do more in raising the stakes in my writing. I’m not going far enough in my negation of the negation–I’m not getting to the very end. But like I said, The Human Stain helped me see this more clearly. I do not, however, see myself reading another “Roth.” The guy is just too wordy.

I read 14 novels in August. I’ve finished one so far in September. Off pace already. Right now I’m 20 pages into Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I’m wondering why in the world it was necessary to describe her getting a Hollywood wax job by page 16.  Has including that much sexual detail become completely necessary to entice someone to keep reading a story that might not otherwise be able to stand on its own? Or is this something for a book club? I’m beginning to see a pattern in books for book clubs–lots of explicit sex, presumably to keep housewives interested in the reading to keep them coming back for more? I don’t know, because to me it seems like–well, it’s not the best of literature, that’s for damned sure.

Okay, time to do some writing for the day.

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A Migraine from Medication Overuse Headache

Aug 25, 2018 by

A Migraine from Medication Overuse Headache

I awoke this morning after 14 hours of sleep caused by a migraine from Medication Overuse Headache. That’s what my neurologist calls them.

They’re the result of having been on opioids for 10.5 months as a consequence of what happened to my back after going to a local chiropractor for treatment.

I didn’t know the person who treated me on Friday the 13th, May 13, 2016 didn’t have a license when he walked into the room. That’d come two weeks later. I’m going to let the lawyers figure that out.

There is not a morning still, more than a year and a half later, when the first thought that shoots into my brain is that my back and legs still hurt. That’s because when I move, even slightly, a sharp pain rockets from somewhere along my spine to my brain and screams, “WHAT IN THE HELL!”

It’s chronic pain now. That’s what they call pain after it’s been with you after six months. Chronic pain tends to never go away.

And then there are the migraines. I had a bout of insomnia Thursday night. Friday was insufferable. By 6 p.m. last night I took an olanzapine, what my neurologist has ordered for relief, and went to sleep at 6:30 p.m.  I got up this morning, still woozy, at 8:30 a.m.

It’s kinda hard to live a normal life with the back and leg pain. Throw in the insomnia and the migraines on top. That’s my life now.

The church service I like to attend begins at 8:15 a.m. on Sundays. That’s about impossible to make anymore. Not when my body isn’t functioning on normal hours and within normal tolerances of pain. Yes, I have a pain stimulator on my back, but it also feels like I have a knotted grapefruit of pain around my spine and when the grapefruit moves, I’m in agony.

After so long, people don’t come around to check on me. They don’t call or text either. I get that. Why call and ask when the answer is going to be the same? Though quite honestly, it’d be nice to hear from friends. Claustrophobia is settling in as my neighbor.

I managed to not get addicted to opioids. Hurrah for that. But the long-term effects of what it’s done to the chemistry of my brain seems to have lingered.

The one positive in all of this is I read a lot. I’ve read 10 books so far this month and I’m on book 11, Olive Kitteridge. I consider my reading work because it is helping my writing. Though that’s harder to do these days because I’m not getting out as much so new ideas aren’t getting fed into my brain. Such vicious cycles, all of it.

The past two days I binge watched Amazon’s The Last Tycoon. I read the F. Scott Fitzgerald book in July. Maybe it was June. It’s one of the 33 books I’ve read since May, I know that. Regardless, the TV series was quite excellent, though I am not sure they went far enough in raising the stakes. They sure did a good job of setting up what characters wanted and then depriving them. That part was done most skillfully. And the acting was very good. Phil Collins’ daughter, Lily Collins, is amazingly beautiful and talented. I’m sure we will see her in more roles going forward.

All that said, my head still hurts and it’s 11:11 on Saturday. The pain has been there for more than 30 hours now and I wish I could go to the ER for an IV, but the last time that happened, BCBS said the drug the doctor used to stop it, (the normal migraine cocktail didn’t work) that his use of the drug wasn’t necessary and they then went about denying payment. But I’ve not gotten a bill and had to send them an ugly letter telling them it was the only damned thing that worked so just pay it. Maybe they have. What a mess.

We live in a society full of pain. When I was first referred to a pain specialist after my injury in 2016, the scheduler said they receive 50 referrals a day.

I’m going to go lie back down now. My head hurts too much to do anything else….


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