Friday, December 25, 2015

Back in the saddle again

There's this scene from M*A*S*H where Frank Burns, after not seeing Margaret Houlihan for some time, thinks he's going to see her and puts on cologne while clucking to the tune of 'Back in the saddle again.' "Buck buck, buck buck buck, buck buck."

I kinda feel that way at the moment, not from a romantic perspective, but from a formerly homeless, formerly paying outrageous amounts to live in a motel, to a finding a place to live and having things go in a positive manner for the first time in ages, since the end of August 2015.

I have not only found a place to live with a co-worker in Jacksonville, but he has a car he wants to sell me. That car is far from perfect, but if I can get it running, it may be a lifesaver.

Also, for the first time since the end of August, I'm posting long overdue videos made in July and August, and made my first Warcraft video since then, because I now have access to my desktop computer that I built (and recorded building) back in July.

I'm far from settled, still physically exhausted and mentally questionable to a certain degree, but I think the tide has turned.

At any rate, things are looking up, and on Christmas day no less. I guess Christmas miracles do happen.

Hope your holiday is as hopeful as mine!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Bright Side - Part 2

I've seen it coming since before Thanksgiving. A not so gentle, yet not very detailed hint from my supervisor that not all is well. It had nothing to do with me personally. It was a business decision because Boston costs too much in salary.

The hint was: Would I be willing to move back to Raleigh if the opportunity came? I was puzzled for the first minute after that question, then I was asked if I understood the implications. Then it dawned on me.

I couldn't grasp it at first because when I took the job I was told there was a 3-year contract. I would be secure in Boston at least that long.

While I hesitate to call it a lie, something obviously happened to change minds. Here's what I think happened: The whole idea for having people in Boston taking calls, rather than being in a call center somewhere else was to have people ready to move to the second level of support. That seemed to work at first, as one of our own moved to level 2. I applied for the same position, but I knew the other guy had a few things over me (experience was not one of them). I was patient. See my patience blog for more on that.

Then another opening came and I applied. I found that the job description had changed so that it explicitly said call center experience did not apply to the requirements. I knew then that I might never get that level 2 job, yet I applied a couple of times after that. I never did get the position.

Which leads me to my theory: Since none of the last few Level 2 people has come from the Boston crew - the B team as we were called - I suspect that was used as an excuse to stop the 'waste' of resources paying people to take calls there.

The end result was that the jobs will cease in Boston effective next week.

I did call this blog the Bright Side. And there was a bright side for me, But for every bright side, there's a dark. I'm losing co-workers I'm naming as friends. They helped me out financially when I needed it, and suggested places to live when I was looking so hard.

The timing also is poor. It's almost Christmas. I've been laid off/fired before at this time of year. It sucks. I can't emphasize that enough.

There's another less than bright side for me: I'm being forced to leave my daughter behind - again. I'd just been getting used to seeing her on a regular basis. I enjoyed that. I gave serious consideration to declining the offer to transfer just because of her.

But two things are in the way: First, I'm still technically homeless. Losing income will drive me back nto the shelter as winter begins. I can't really call that a bad thing, but it makes things horribly difficult, and they're already difficult as it is. I explored the possibility of getting work here, and found most of the work is contract, 3-6 months at best, and paying less than I had been making. And finding that work would be difficult in the shelter as I'd have nowhere to put my meager belongings. Even if I bought a suit, where would I put it day-to-day? I'd have to rent a storage facility, yadda yadda.

In the end, it was too difficult a challenge from someone so tired of the struggle. I thought about their offer for 2 hours after I got it, and made the decision.

I'm moving to Jacksonville Florida. I'm making $10,000/year less. I'm getting a small amount to move. It's less than I asked for. I don't really have a choice.

But it's cheaper to live in Jacksonville, and I should be able to find a decent one-bedroom apartment for what I'll be making. That's better than I could do in Boston.

And that is the silver lining. The bright side is I'll find a place to live. That's the bottom line for me.

But I do not forgive for this, and I'll never forget.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

You Say Be Patient - But I Do Not Think You Know What It Means

I have lived 54 years and 358 days. That's since I came out of the womb, so I 'lived' 9 months more than that. Well, depending on your point of view, I, as a soul within my body, probably lived a little less. But I digress, possibly a subject for a future blog.

In my 54+ years, I believe I have been extraordinarily patient. Oh sure, as a small child I probably pulled a few tantrums if I didn't get my way. But once I got used to that idea that not everything would go my way, I settled in and waited. I remember asking my sister to play with me, and she said 'in a minute.' Time didn't mean much to me at that age, but the bottom line was: if I wanted to play, I had to wait. I don't remember if she actually played with me, but given my record over the years, probably not. Most likely something else happened that took my mind away from playing, or, my imagination kicked in and I played with myself - not in a dirty way. Shame on you.

I have, what I believe is an uncanny ability to withdraw. My mother used to call say 'Don't go Walter Mitty on me' or something to that effect. I actually liked that movie - the original, not the remake. I could relate to Walter. When things got dull or I had to wait for something, I withdrew into my own little world. Literally. What bugs me about that is why I didn't write things down from the beginning. Maybe the thoughts were too private. Maybe I thought others would kid me about it. Yeah, that's probably it. I've always had a keen sense of what others thought of me.

But the point is, I'm patient. That's something that's being tried at the moment, so I wanted to dip into exactly what I've been patient about over the years.

The old saying 'Good things come to those that wait' has hit me at times, missed a lot more. When it came to girls I could never make the first move, and that's true even today. Even when I did get a date, something usually did or didn't happen to keep the romance flowing. A lot of that was lack of experience. A lot of that was that it takes time to get to know me, and it always seemed like I waited too long to open up, or something happened to tear us apart, like the girl moving away, or me moving away.

Let's put it this way: I admired girls from afar. It might have been creepy from a certain standpoint, but it was just me being me. I offer no ill will toward anyone - with the exception of bullies. I'll admit I got into fights as a kid because I saw or was dealt injustice and I bottled it up until I exploded. I can honestly say no one was seriously harmed in my fights, and I often got the worst of it: Glasses thrown off, a sweater ripped, etc.

But the simple fact was: I was too shy for my own good. That goes beyond being introverted.

I did have one meaningful relationship in my life, in college. She came to me. It produced a daughter. I won't go into details, but the relationship ended. The breakup sorely tested my patience. I couldn't finish my Bachelor's Degree because of the loss of that relationship. It had too profound an affect on me.

So without more than an Associate's degree, I spent years wandering. I went from job to job, from place to place, leaving a job when it was the right time for me, then getting a different job.

I have been a contract programmer for a small company, a file clerk for an insurance company, a slot technician in Las Vegas (after taking an electronics course at a small 'college'), a store clerk in Springfield Mass., a computer operator for a couple of different firms, a salesperson for Radio Shack, an usher for the Colorado Rockies, Broncos, Nuggets and Avalanche, a data entry operator for a Ma Bell company, a COBOL programmer for the same company, all in the space of 15 years.

The list goes on, but the point is I was trying to find what I was good at that I enjoyed. At the same time I was observing different cultures, right here in the Good Ol' USA. I was noticing changes in accents, mannerisms that varied from region to region and how people dressed and generally acted around each other.

I didn't know I was a writer until 1996, when a story came to me so strongly that I felt the need to put pen to paper for the first time. Maybe I'd been preparing myself all those years. I don't know. They say artists have to suffer for their work. What if you don't know you're an artist? I thought I was just a poor loner who was doomed to wander for the rest of his life.

Don't get me wrong. I'm good at a lot of things. Even though I hate anything having to do with phones, I have a pleasant speaking voice and demeanor. So customer service and now technical support were my calling after 2000.

And, of course, computers themselves call out to me. I'm an introverted nerd/geek who can sit for hours in front of a computer, either playing games or typing in general. I've built several of my own computer systems, even thought about going into business custom-building computers - called 'Foxbuilt Computers.' Like all of my other endeavors, it never materialized, but that has never stopped ideas from coming into my head.

Which leads us back to being patient. In all the different jobs I've done, all the different people I've met, I have yet to feel like I've accomplished my given task.

Of course the problem there is I don't know what the given task is. I've written about this before, and it's a major principle of 'Regrets,' and of the song I wrote, aptly named: 'The Job's Not Done.' My song 'Free' speaks of a restless soul, trying to break free.

Yet here I am, sitting in front of my computer, typing this blog, seemingly no closer to my unstated goals than ever.

And here then, is the story of my life: I have been waiting, patiently for the thing I'm supposed to accomplish to happen.

You might say: "But Michael, that's your problem all along. You're not ambitious enough or straightforward enough do be much good to anyone."

To which I might say: "To thine own self be true." I may not be an ambitious money-grubber, willing to walk over anyone in my path. Let's take the 'may' out of that. That's not who I am. I've had the feeling that I've trodden this path before, lived another life before, and I'm willing to bet that I waited for something then too, because the job I'm tasked to do is likely one that will take more than one lifetime.

So if you call yourself patient because you waited in a line for a half-hour, please bear me in mind, who has been patient for lifetimes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Seeing the Bright Side

I will admit that lately I've been very negative on my social media feeds, this one included. So as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to take a look at the bright side of my life.

1) I have a job. Two years ago at this time, I did not have my job, one year ago I had a job that I thought was going to end soon. Now it looks like this job, though contract, will last at least the next 2 years. I am forever grateful for that.

2) I am writing. I finished one book, Regrets, and am working on the sequel. The books are the only thing keeping me sane lately - No, that's a positive thing. I've lived in near insanity for too long in years past.

3) Some of my family and friends care what happens to me. I have a loving daughter and a few co-workers and Facebook friends who have helped me recreate the positive aspects of my life. I am so very proud of her right now, because she's going to college!

4) I have not lost everything. I've been to that dark place where I have lost nearly everything. I may not have everything I want or need, but I at least have something. Most important, I have not lost hope. I almost did back in September and October, but it's still alive in me.

At the moment, that's all I can think of that's positive in my life. I'm really hoping that changes, but for now, I'm singing along with Monty Python.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sides to a story

As a writer, it is my job to come up with interesting plots, characters and twists to keep the audience enthralled. I hope I succeeded with Regrets, but thankfully what comes out of my mind is entirely fictional.

But real life events have been taking place, and not just in Paris. There are people out there that really want to kill everyone that does not agree with them.

And I'm not just talking about the (damn, I can't come up with a proper word) -- killers of the fundamentalist faction that is spreading terror around the world now.

Note that I'm trying to avoid calling people names. It's immature and inciteful and the last thing these guys need is additional incitement.

So let's talk a little about what incites people to do a violent act on another person. It could be something as simple as not decorating a cup in the fashion accustomed by certain other people.

I will not use labels in this blog. Everyone is a person, or a human. Unless you're an animal. Even that could be considered inciteful, but only if you think you're not human. Or perhaps you're superhuman, or have evolved beyond the normal laws that man has created, Perhaps you think the laws don't apply to you.

Don't be (apply random name-calling here). You're human. If you can read this you're human. If you can react with various emotions to this blog, you're human.

Human: By way of

[hyoo-muh n or, often, yoo‐]

Spell Syllables

Word Origin
of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or having the nature of people:
human frailty.
consisting of people:
the human race.
of or relating to the social aspect of people:
human affairs.
sympathetic; humane :
a warmly human understanding.noun
a human being.

From the British part of that:

of, characterizing, or relating to man and mankind: human nature
consisting of people: the human race, a human chain
having the attributes of man as opposed to animals, divine beings, or machines: human failings

You're human. You're not a god. You're not an animal. You're not perfect. You have feelings.

Let me emphasize this. Everyone has feelings.

As a writer, I pride myself at being able to see all sides to a story, because  there's not such thing as two sides. Even when only two people are around, because no matter how isolated you become in this world, someone somewhere is having an impact on your life. More than one someones.

So, being able to see all sides to a story, I can see being angry over events happening in Paris. I can see wanting to get revenge on those that carried it out and planned it. That part of me wants to wage war until all of the enemy is wiped out.

Then another part of my kicks in and asks: 'Who's the enemy?' It's a simple question, but the answer is far from simple. Yes, kill the enemy, but please don't kill the innocents that the enemy invariably draws around them. Just so they can say 'The Americans (or French, or British or Russians) killed your brother, your sister, your mother  and/or your father and now you should join us because you want revenge too.'

This is what they want. This is how the enemy recruits. And yes, I can see that side too. They want power and glory and they are willing to give their own lives to see it happen. I have written characters like that and in every instance the character dies and all that is left is the memory of how things might have been.

So that part of me that can see all sides now asks 'Why kill at all? Will that bring people back?' I know that's a cliche. That doesn't make it untrue. 

So how do we stop people - humans - who want to kill other humans? 

Do we become so vigilant that we trample on the rights of all humans just to prevent another atrocity?

Do we wage all out war until everyone in that region is dead? Silly, isn't it? But in my mind that is how it might end. 

Do we close our borders and not let any from that country in? What about the ones that are already there? Do we deport them? Do we treat them like pariahs?

It's funny that we have killed so many predators - animals - that we have driven them to the point of extinction. Yet humans prevail. And despite the butchery that happens altogether too often, our population continues to grow beyond our means to feed it. 

But that is yet another side to the story. It's all interrelated. 

How does it end? Do we kill, and blame someone else for making us kill? 

Or do we let go of the hatred, let go of the fear? 

There's an old saying: 'Kill someone with kindness.' Embrace those that show hate to you. Take in those refugees and feed and clothe them so they can see that we don't hold them to blame for the acts of others. Show the joy in our hearts for being human.

More people will die. I will mourn them. I might even be one of them, but should that happen, I would not want my family to avenge me. I would want them to understand that the only way this stops is to teach our young that we are all the same. To teach them that taking a single life hurts us all. Taking multiple lives strikes deep into the soul of every human. 

I write often about souls. Perhaps the ones who want so much destruction have had their souls damaged, Maybe they deserve to die. 

But that won't stop the carnage. The only way to stop it is to start with the current youngest generation. When the older ones have either killed each other or died off in other ways, the younger ones can start to heal the world. 

Now that would be a wonderful time to live in.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Write What You Know

As a writer, that mantra has been repeated over and over again: Write what you know.

Of course, if that were really true, there would be no Science Fiction or Fantasy. So what they really mean by that would be: write your characters based on your own experiences.

So for my own characters, at some point in the story they might be:

but not perfecgt (SIC), (Heh, funny that I wrote it like that the first time, then decided not to correct it, since it fit in.),
wandering with no real focus on what they should be doing
but not completely hopeless
reaching for something, but not knowing what (Goes back to wandering I know)
adept at something they don't like to do, but have to do it to pay the bills
knowing that there's something beyond this life than heaven and hell or purgatory

All of which I have experienced in my lifetime.

In the current Simmons Chronicles series, I've managed to put most of that into several different characters, as well as some life experiences. I hope it makes the characters believable.

As the second part of that series comes to life I'll be adding to that. That book will show a definite decline for a couple of the characters (I won't say which), but since I tentatively titled it 'Darkness' that should be considered a clue. It begins light, then one character falls into darkness, followed - literally by another who is searching for that person as well as searching for him/herself, then both come rising just as things get really dark. The story ends very dark, yet not without hope.

The story of my life.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Presenting: Regrets!

Yes, the moment has arrived! Regrets has gone through the Createspace process and is now available not only in Createpace, but Amazon too! Soon it will also be available in Kindle form, but I wanted to get this out there.

And as if that weren't enough, you can enter a contest to win a copy of the book.

Links: Createspace:
Note: after checking a moment ago, I found the giveaway had ended. Sorry, gotta move fast!

I'll post again as I find different links for it.

In the meantime, enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2015

A WIP Draws Near Completion - Regrets

Since early September, I have been working on a reboot of my Timmons Chronicles series. It started out as a prequel to the existing books, and was titled 'Regrets.' The idea was to show the characters from 'Theater Boy' and 'The Timmons Incident' before Robert/Bobby was pushed back in time. In other words, I wanted to show why he was so driven to change things.

The process of writing it has been difficult, because of my inability to find a permanent home. I've had to do almost all the writing for it at work, between calls. I even did some of it in Notepad, which didn't translate very well when I switched to Google's Doc. Let's say when I finished it and started editing it, I changed a lot of apostrophes and quotation marks to the curvy type.

All of my writing for the Timmons Chronicles before then had sort of been aimed at Young Adults, and rightfully so, since the characters then were aged 13-14 or so. But for the new writings not only are the characters adults at the beginning, but it turns out were driven to have sex together. So my dilemma then was: How much sex to put in and how much detail should I get into.

Let me explain what I mean by detail. When the story first starts out these two are so completely opposite that given ordinary circumstances, they'd never get together. But forces beyond their control are driving them together. And one of those forces is sexual desire.

The first time it happens, the sex is spontaneous and brief, but for Dottie Brown, the first act opens up a whole new world for her. For her sex is more than just the pleasurable part and making babies, though there is that. A lot of that. For her, sex is a way of driving away the dark dreams she's been having. It chases away her demons. Therefore, she wants it as much as she can if only for that purpose. But it goes beyond even that, because sex with Robert Simmons allows her to see into his mind clearer than ever before.

And he's got one hell of a mind, if I do say so myself. So why go into the detail which really becomes erotica? I need you to see how the sex affects Dottie, both physically and mentally. It opens up so much for her and I want you to be right with her, writhing in ecstasy as much as she does.

So once I decided to write some of the sex scenes as erotica, it came down to how much sex to write. I could simply have written 'They made love by the moonlight,' a few times, but sex is an important part of this story because it's part of what drives them together.

And then the children start to come, and then they become important to the story. This really is a story about family, after all, something that was missing in 'Theater Boy' and 'The Timmons Incident.'

When I started writing it, I thought it would end in the tragedy that would drive them apart. But as I got deeper into the story, I decided the ending for this book would be relatively happy. I also decided to change the name of the series to 'The Simmons Chronicles,' because I have plans to continue that timeline after the events of the second book, where I really lay it on. I've tentatively titled it 'Darkness.' Dark enough for you?

Anyway the first draft of the first book is complete, and I'm really just filling in a few gaps and proofing it at this point. I have a tentative cover for it:

I'm still trying to figure out if that's the best. What I want to know from you, gentle readers, is would you pick up a book with that kind of cover?

Well, guess what? I'm gong to make the entire draft of the book available for a short time. Please click on this link to access it. I might remove access after a while, so hurry!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why I try hard not to live in a Shelter

Recently, I fought hard to not have to live in the shelter system again. I asked friends and family for help. Some of them asked why I would try that hard, even living in $100/day motel rooms just to avoid living in the shelter. Here are some of the reasons:

Why I try hard not to live in a Shelter

It's not just because of the crowded nature of shelters
Waiting for a bed
or the fact that there might not be enough room from night to night
or that beds are less than 2 feet apart
or that you will likely get your stuff stolen at least once in your shelter stay (4 times so far)
or that staff has seen it all and can appear uncaring
or that the food is designed to fill bellies but not to provide full nutrition
or that you have to put up with the unwashed
or that some of the people are drunk or high
or that some of the people choose to fight
or that I get searched every time I enter a shelter
or that I have to take a shower with 6-7 other men at a time
or that I have to see those men walk around naked
or that I have to squeeze in between those men to get to my locker
or that there are 10 inches of locker space before the next one
or that men snore at all hours
or that some lights are on in the dorm, if you're unlucky enough to be close to them, you can't sleep
or that you have to get up at 5am
or that have to wait in line to get fed
or that you have to wait to get your bed
or that you have to be in the shelter by a certain time to get a bed
or that some people like to talk while you want to sleep
or that men cough all through the night
or that diseases spread more easily in the closed confines of a shelter
or that once you're in, you can't leave until the morning
or that in some shelters you have to listen to a sermon
or that sometimes they make you dress in their clothes, that are either like burlap bags or prison-issue clothes
or that sometimes you can see the men's butts hanging out of their shelter-issued clothes
or that you lose control of your life when you enter the shelter
or that you lose dignity on entering the shelter.

I try to stay out of the shelter for all those reasons. Unfortunately, I failed in my attempt to stay out of the shelter, so I have to suffer through all of this.

Edit: One more note before I end this particular rant: Imagine doing this for a day, then imagine that day stretching out to another day, then a week, a month, and yes, even years. Welcome to my world. I hope my current time in the shelter won't stretch that far, but every day takes a physical and mental toll. Imagine how relieved I was to get out the last time. It will be double that this time.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Caring is Sharing - Except When It Comes to Money

I've had a rather hard month. My lease ended on my old basement room. I was scrambling like hell to find someplace within my budget before that lease ended. Craigslist and I were old friends. I thought I had a chance at one place, roommate to one of my co-workers. I went to see the place, told the guy I liked it despite the uphill climb to get there, and me with no car.

I filled out the application and waited. This was just days before my lease ended, so naturally I was kinda antsy to hear from him. Two days later, I finally got an email from him, saying someone else had taken the room before me. I was never told there was competition.

I looked into rooms in Hull, at the advice of a couple of co-workers, and found a studio apartment within my budget, but it wouldn't be available until after I moved out. None of my other leads had panned out, so I gathered what stuff I could and moved it temporarily into a Motel 6 in Braintree. $110/day. I even had the guy send me an application ahead of time so I could bypass the wait for that.

Days passed, and the day came for me to see it. I fought my way to Hull, had to do some walking because I got off the bus too soon, but I finally saw the place. It was small, It only had a microwave and a small fridge, but it was adequate for the price and it was a block from the beach. Cool, I thought. I'll take it.

I told him I really needed to move in NOW, but he needed to run it by the owner, oh, and he needed $2700 for me to move in.

Long story short, a week passed before I was approved, In the time between moving out and then I spent $1300, and had no money to move in. The guy knew I was spending money at a motel, but he kept delaying it, he said because there was a problem with my SSN, and I had bad credit. But he was willing to work with me and the owner.

But by then I was nearly out of money. I moved to a cheaper motel that was not within commuting distance to work, and thankfully, my employer was willing to let me work from the motel temporarily.

Temporarily seems to be my word of the month.

You don't realize who cares about you and who doesn't until you ask for money. I needed $2700 to move into that place, and at one time I had $1800. The owner wouldn't work with me on moving in with less. I asked my family for help and have heard nothing back from them. I put a posting on Facebook, lightheartedly asking those who could to send money to my PayPal account. They seemed to think it was a joke,

On the second night I stayed at the second motel, I had a crisis of faith in humanity. I gave real thought to broadcasting my live suicide, because I could see no light at the end of the tunnel. In all the years I was homeless, I frequently had thoughts of suicide, even jumping off a railroad bridge. I wrote a script about it, a short film. But I didn't do it, because I still had some hope left.

Just a couple of days ago, I temporarily lost hope.

I mean, why should people care that I've spent far more money than I have just to get moved into a new place? Why is it so hard for me to move? My daughter even found a new place to live, but I can't. I don't understand why every little aspect of my life has been so difficult.

Even when I found a place to live after moving to Boston there were issues. A freezing basement, a short-term lease that couldn't be renewed, neighbors that argued day and night and housemates that refused to pay their share of an electric bill that I took over. I seemingly had plenty of time to find a new place, but one thing or another has come up, One obstacle or another, and the biggest is money.

A small glimmer of hope remains. But whatever happens needs to happen soon. Or that hope will fade, and the thoughts that this life isn't worth living will return.

Or maybe I'm just getting what I deserve. I just don't know anymore. Right now my writing is about the only thing keeping me going, and I can't help but to dump misery on my characters.

Write what you know.

If you want to help, you can send money via my PayPal account:

If not, I'll understand. I can't offer anything except my writing.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Writing: Timmons Chronicles Reboot - Chapter 1

Back when I first started writing about Bobby Timmons, Penny Thomas and Dottie and Sarah Brown, I knew where they all came from. I knew their background and what drove the characters. In other words, I knew that the original story did not start at the beginning. I wrote it with young adults in mind and threw some of what happened into flashbacks, yet I was always holding back. My thinking was: they were children. My readers would be children.

Yet as the story progressed and people started to read it, I realized the story was far more adult than it should have been, and as such, it appealed to adults more than young adults. My mistake was to rewrite it as an even more young adult book, and I failed at that, even.

Soooooo, I have begun to rewrite it from the beginning. From the very beginning. A very good place to start. None of our characters in this first novel, named 'Regrets', has a clue what will happen to them, or what is driving them. I've decided that there should be something driving them. The events that drove Bobby and the Old Man in the previous versions have not happened yet. We are in a different timeline, a happier one in some respects, and yet not as happy as it might be.

Here is the first chapter of this reboot. Not designed for Young Adults. Enjoy.

The Timmons Chronicles Book 1


Chapter 1 - 1983

Dottie Brown looked over her notes for the umpteenth time. It wasn't that she couldn't remember the words, she had an eidetic memory. It was the emotions she was trying to convey that counted.

She lay face-down on her motel bed, propped up by a pillow, her notes in neat piles, one side that she had already gone over, the other was ready to read.

Show compassion; show pride, but not so much that you're arrogant; show humility but not so much that you're a pushover; show knowledge, and the capacity to think for yourself. She certainly could do those last 2. Years of memorizing the encyclopedias at home. Years of using her home chemistry set, working part time at the local chemical plant to get the 'safe' chemicals she needed. Months of trying to figure out what she liked best: Chemistry or Physics. She studied physics from books in the local library, mostly outdated, but with some practical information nonetheless. She was sure she knew more about both subjects than her high school teachers.

She clicked her tongue. Watch that arrogance, girl. If you make it into Harvard everyone will know more than you. But that was the whole point. She had reached her limits of what a Nebraska education could give her. Time to move away from the cow tippers and corn huskers and move into the real world. She just had to nail this interview.

Her brain told her it was time to dress: a perfect internal clock. She rolled over and out of the bed, then looked at the dress her parents wanted her to wear. Dress conservatively, they said. She hated dresses. Give her a comfortable pair of jeans and a pull-over shirt and she'd be happy as a clam. The less she had to think about dressing the more she could think about other things.

Plus dresses made her look awkward, to her mind. She put the dress against her and looked in a mirror. Yeah, awkward. It made her look like a beanpole, something the kids at high school called her frequently. Genetics made her tall; teasing made her mad.

She took a deep breath. That was the last thing she needed: to get mad. Harvard was her dream school. Bad enough her interview at Yale was terminated due to her temper. No. Due to a sexist pig of an interviewer. She shook it off, no sense in bringing it back just before the most important point in her life.

She jumped in the shower and afterward dried her shoulder-length, Fire-Engine-Red hair. As she combed it out the one positive thing she could say about it was that it was straight. She could not tolerate frizzy hair.

She slipped on the dress, dabbed a bit of makeup on her face: another sore point. Freckles were one thing, but combined with acne. Ugh. For half a minute she opened her mind to the possibilities, just to see if any challenges would reveal themselves. She wished she'd done that before the Yale interview... No, let's forget that.

She 'saw' nothing in particular, just some positive feelings. She took that as a good sign and slipped into her high heels.

"Hi, Dad," she said, a second before the knock on the door. She opened it. "I'm ready."

J.D. Brown was tall, but hardly the matchstick figure his daughter turned out to be. His work in construction for most of his life had made his body tough. But he had a jovial laugh and a good nature. Dottie frequently called him 'Corny,' but that had more to do with the area of Nebraska they lived in.

J.D. nodded at her and she followed him to the living area of the suite. Her mother, Beth, smiled sweetly at her. "I don't need to tell you how to act. Just be yourself and don't let the little things get you off-target."

Dottie understood. She and her mother had more than a familial bond: they thought alike. Only Mom didn't get mad. For that matter, neither did Dad. He only got 'disappointed,' but he let her know it by a silent frown or a terse word.

The drive to Harvard was silent. Dottie went over her notes in her head. Show compassion there, show pride there, show ambition everywhere, and show a little humility in just the right doses. That was her father's advice. She had no lack of ambition. But the humility was hard. She was right. She was always right. It irked her when someone told her she was wrong when she wasn't. They couldn't see things the way she could. No matter how right her visions turned out to be, no one believed her, except that one time. She shivered, trying to free her mind of the mutalated body she had seen in her head. But after that the teasing started, and she hid her 'gift'. 'Kids will'be kids', her mother had said. Yes, cruel and uncaring.

She closed her eyes and tried to meditate. Meditation had two repercussions for her: it calmed her so her anger had nothing to latch onto, and it increased her awareness of everything around her. The former had obvious good intentions. The latter had both good and bad repercussions. She felt minds all around her in various emotional states. Happy, sad, passionnate and yes, angry. She forced herself to concentrate on the happy and passionnate emotions she read. Her face turned red automatically when passions rose to their crescendo. She felt nothing internally, though. That was HER choice and no one else's. The happy thoughts, however, calmed her. They were happy moments in the lives of families in her general vicinity, and they reminded her of the happy moments her own family had gone through.

She saw a picnic setting with her parents and...No, no, NO! NO! Keep those thoughts away!

She pulled back from her reverie and opened her eyes. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back, but that was the only sign that something had happened. No, her mother had stiffened. She felt it too. Dottie drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. The feelings of anxiety faded just as they approached the gates to Harvard.


Dottie sat in front of the group of Harvard professors and administrators. She had been through this sort of group interview before and knew what to expect. That helped to relax her. She got a generally good vibe from the group, with one or two negative vibes. She could overcome that. She had to overcome that.

The senior administrator cleared his throat. "Thank you for coming Miss Brown," he said. They were all male, all old men. "Tell us why you want to attend Harvard in the Fall."

Dottie drew a deep breath and launched into the prepared part of her notes. Knowing what they wanted to hear was a big part of it.

"I respect this institution. The foremost professors of physics and astronomy call Harvard home. I feel I can learn more here than any other school because of the resources at your disposal."

The grumpy man with the beard interrupted her. "Resources that cost money, Miss Brown. You applied for a scholarship. Can your family not provide for the tuition and room and board at Harvard?"

Dottie fought back the fit of anger caused by the interruption. Humility. "My family has never found that money provides happiness, Dr. Beckmann, we've always lived modestly on my dad's construction income. They can help me with room and board, but tuition is another matter. that's why I've applied for a scholarship as well as as many grants as I could find. I've worked 2 jobs over the last 2 years to earn the money I need for the first year, so I am prepared for that, but if and when I am accepted at Harvard, I want my full attention on my studies rather than how I'm going to pay for it."

The man nodded. "But why should we select you for Harvard, Miss Brown. Especially for our renowned Physics department?"

Time for pride. "I have straight A's in High School, and will be the valedictorian there when I graduate. I have perfect scores in the SAT's and Advanced Placement credits. I'd be starting out as a Sophomore. I've had an intense desire to learn about physics and I've read as many papers are in the public archives as I can. Even your book, (book title), Dr. Beckmann. I find the field of Astrophysics to be compelling. I-I'm even thinking of becoming an astronaut." She fell silent, her thoughts turning to space.

She heard a couple of huffs and a chuckle. The emotions she read told her they thought it was a joke. Yet it seemed to lighten the mood, so she let it pass.

She felt a piercing glance from another man, with glasses and small eyes. "Miss Brown, it has come to my attention that you were removed from an interview with Yale because of a fit of temper." He paused to see how she would react. She kept her posture relaxed. "Tell us about that, please?"

She drew a breath. Humility. "I don't know what you've heard, but this is the truth. Dr. Fields, I'm sure you all know him, made a comment about my body, suggesting I was trying to look like a man in order to fit in. His comment basically said I had no chest. I took offense to the fact that my gender or chest-size has any effect on whether I would be admitted to Yale. I regret that my temper got the best of me." Passion. "But my temper comes from my passion to learn and to succeed in discovering the unknown. I would much rather use that energy in finding black holes than in defending my - my womanhood."

She felt positive energy flowing from most of them. Nailed it.

The rest of the interview took on a more technical feel, being peppered with questions about what she knew. She answered every question with certainty.

At the end, the administrator stood. "Thank you, Miss Brown. We'll be in touch."

She stood and shook the hands of everyone there, getting a better empathic sense of how they felt. She left feeling highly confident.

She met her parents at a cafe on campus.

"Was it worth it," said her father. "I don't mean from a financial standpoint..."
Yes he did, partly.

"I mean do you feel that going for Harvard is worth all the - aggravation?"

She looked him in the eye. He had her best interest at heart. "I feel driven to get the best education. Period. Harvard can provide me with that, as well as the resources to continue researching after I leave. So yes, to me it's worth everything to go there."

She heard a voice in her head, one she hadn't heard before. It's vital you go to Harvard. It had a familiar ring to it, but she couldn't place it. She shook her head. This didn't feel like someone's thoughts. It felt like someone trying to tell her something.

"All right," he said. "Let's head home, then."

She opened her purse. "Not before I fill out these thank you cards and mail them. I want them to get these cards tomorrow." She began the process of writing each one, remembering individual details about each of them that she could use to personalize the cards. She had mastered caligraphy in her sophomore year, but kept her script plain, with the occasional flourish. She could feel her father's impatience growing, but she took her time, wanting to get it right the first time, every time.


When they arrived back at their home in Nebraska, Dottie unpacked quickly yet put everything in its place, slipped into her comfortable jeans, shirt and baseball cap, grabbed her bucket of baseballs, bat and glove and went to the nearby baseball field. It was empty but that was the way she liked it. She stretched and then ran a few laps, alternating her speed, feeling her heart beating faster. The time alone, with no one nearby, gave her time to think. She ran to the mound with her glove and ball, and threw pitches against the backstop, watching with delight as her pitches crossed the plate again and again. the boys hadn't let he play Little league as a child, and she was relegated to softball in High School. But baseball was her first love when it came to sports. She loved to watch the Major Leaguers pitch and bat, and mimiced them at first, but came up with her own style over the years.

She was in the process of hitting fly balls deep into the outfield when she saw a group of boys come up. She sensed they wanted to play a pick-up game and that meant she had to leave. But today she was feeling more defiant than usual and kept hitting. When one cleared the fence she got some whistles from the boys. But it was all a game. They knew she could hit, and pitch, but they didn't want her as a part of any team. She could sense the machismo and testosterone building in just the few minutes they watched. She hit the last ball in her bucket, then started to run after them.

She sighed as the boys started to take the field, assuming she was finished. She knew the answer even before she asked. "Mind if I play?"

The team leader was one of her classmates. An ugly brute who had hit on her more than once. She had shot him down every time.

"I'll let you play if you go out with me," he said.

Dottie carried the bucket of balls toward the rickety stands, turned and shook her head. "No thanks, Tom. I'm saving my dating life for the man I'll marry."

The brute crossed his arms. "How do you know he's the one if you don't date him?"
Dottie looked away for a moment, wistfully. "Oh, I'll know. He'll sweep me off my feet and make me feel like I'm a woman."

She heard the laughter in her head before she heard it in her ears.

"You are so dopey, Beanpole. We should call you Dopey Dottie from now on."

She stared at Tom. "And you wonder why I won't date you? Learn some manners and don't insult people." She felt like dropping him; she could. She had, once, when she was 15, but she got in so much trouble. She picked up her baseballs, her bat and glove and stormed off the field.

She dropped her gear on the floor of her room, curled up in her bed, and let her mind drift.

You'll know him when you meet. He won't seem right, but he will be the one.

She started out of her reverie. She had seen a figure, a man. She had seen herself too. The man was shorter than her. She soured at that thought. She always had the notion of looking up into her lover's eyes. Oh yes, she thought about sex, even if the act itself had not happened yet. She trembled slightly at the anticipation. Her Catholic upbringing might force her to wait until marriage, but that did not stop the urges. She drew a long breath, then went to take a cold shower. Not yet.

Copyright 2015 Michael Harrison Fox

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CompuTrek: One Man's Journey to Build a Computer

It started with an interview, an accusation that my experience did not adequately prepare me for the job I wanted. That my 2 years on the phone troubleshooting systems did not count toward the experience they desired for Level 2 Deskside Support.

I knew I could do the job, I had built several computers from parts over the last 20+ years. But those were for me, not for an employer. I had taken classes in A+ Certification, but I did not have the actual certificate.

So, I asked myself, how could I prove I have the ability to be an effective Desktop Technician? My answer was: build a desktop computer from the various components and record myself doing it.

So began an Odyssey that has taken me several months to reach fruition. First, I had to have enough money to buy the components, a feat which was aided by 20 hours of overtime in May. Once I had adequate money, I needed to research what parts I needed, and more importantly, what tools would I need to prove my abilities?

I decided that I was going to prove all the skills that I had learned at NC State: A+, Net+, Security+, Windows 7 and Cisco. I would need all the tools and equipment that would prove proficiency in those skills. I decided to build 2 computers, one of which would be used as a server, one as the client (and a killer game system while I was at it), get a Cisco Router to connect them all together, put together a RAID system, and add all the security and networking tools I needed.

I've divided the process into stages. Stage One was to build the server. This computer did not have to have the killer hardware of the gaming system. I could get by with cheap. I researched motherboards, processors, graphics cards, memory, hard drives, Solid State drives, and cases.

I didn't really want to get everything mail order, so I found a local store in Boston, Micro Center, to have a chance to look at the components first-hand. The trek there led me from work, to the Silverline Courthouse Station, to South Station where I caught a Red Line train to Park Street, to a Green Line train that took me to Boston University West. It might be noted that the night before I had attended a concert, and had walked extensively before and after, so I was already tired and footsore. Once at the BU West station, I had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the Micro Center Store.

Once there I saw a vast array of motherboards and everything else, but a sign caught my attention, that said if you buy an AMD processor, you could get money off the motherboard for it. I wound up getting a motherboard for free when I spent $100 for the processor. I was very happy about that. I could have chosen a quad core processor, but instead I was sold on a 6-core processor.

Given that I did not have a car, and had limited carrying abilities, I broke my shopping spree into two trips. On the first trip I bought the motherboard, the processor, the power supply, memory and an OEM copy of Windows 7 Home Premium. I dragged the bags back the way I came, walking 10+ minutes, Green Line, Red Line then the Orange Line to go home. By the time I got home it was late and I was exhausted.

I had planned on going back the next day, but my knees, feet and ankles said no. So I went to work, but rested during the night. I did some research on what I'd bought, and found the motherboard doesn't work with Windows 8, which was fine by me. For my first system I had planned a dual-boot, first installing Windows 7, then installing MS Server 2012. They offer a trial version that's good for 6 months, plenty of time to prove my skills.

The next day, a Friday, I left work feeling a little better, and made the trudge back to Micro Center. This time I thought I might limit myself to a case and a keyboard, and a couple of smaller things. But I
did shop for monitors too. I found a suitable, cheap case, a suitable, cheap keyboard, and a suitable cheap monitor. I actually had a choice, two 24" monitors for the same price, but one was considerably heavier than the other. After lifting the lighter one, I thought, 'Hey, I can make this in one trip.' I paid for my stuff and prepared to leave.

The box for the monitor had a handle on it, which is what sold me on getting it. The box for the case had no such luxury. But it was relatively light and I found I could heft it all right. Then the first walk came, and what was a 10 minute walk any other time, became a 20+ minute walk of horrors, as my strength gave out time and time again, forcing me to put my packages down and rest a minute. My hands began to cramp up, and my back hurt. I have one strong arm, and one weak one, and shifting the packages around proved harder on my weak right arm.

I knew there was a bus stop close by, but I'd never seen the stop. I took the chance and walked in a different direction until I found the stop. The bus came and took me in the opposite direction of what I
wanted, but did leave me at a Red Line station. The transit system was crowded by that time, so I spent half the trip back standing, my packages on the floor or between my legs. No one offered to give up their seats to someone who was obviously struggling until near the end.

But the end result was that I made it home, exhausted, but at least I had all the computer parts for the First Stage. What I didn't have was a desk or table to set it up on, and a chair to sit in.

So I did my research and I found a Walmart in Quincy, Massachussetts. The plan that day was to go to Walmart, see if they had a place to cut hair inside, as they frequently do, look for a nice suit to record an
introduction in and then get the table and chair. I found the routes to take on the MBTA to get there, and found them lacking, much the same as for Micro Center: there was a period where I had to walk. Yet, I was determined to get the damned thing set up that weekend, so Saturday afternoon, I made one last trek, oh how I wish.

Orange Line, Red Line, Bus. I found a 4-foot plastic table and a chair that went with it, not too too heavy, and the table had a built-in handle. The chair had a hole in the back to put my hand through. But I found no place to cut hair there and I knew dragging a suit along with the table and chair would be a  bad idea, so I only took the table and chair with me.

The walk from the bus stop unencumbered took 10 minutes. Encumbered, with frequent stops to rest my tired arms and back took 20 minutes. But at least the way back was downhill, that was what saved me.

After getting chastised by a snooty bus driver for going to the wrong stop, I did finally drag my tired butt back home. Tired as I was, though, I was eager to get started with the build. I set up the table and chair, then lined up all my computer products at the desk, took a picture, then recorded an introduction to the actual players in my dramedy: the components.

I have a camera that happens to shoot video. It's a nice camera, and the video it shoots, as well as the audio were perfect for my needs, but it runs on battery power and an SD card. I had no way to plug it into the AC, only to charge the batteries. I have 3 batteries for it, and each battery let me record video for about 20 minutes or so.

The bottom line was a series of short videos that chronicled my attempt to put the computer together. Overall, it went well, until I tried to fire it up, and nothing worked. All the work I had put into it, shattered by a bad power supply.

But then this is why I wanted to get all the parts locally. I knew that, rather than having to send the part back, I could just walk back to Micro Center and get it replaced the next day. I could do nothing until the morning, so I removed the defective power supply and left everything else as it was. I went to bed exhausted and not a happy camper.

Then the rain started.

It rained all night. When I woke, it was still raining. Yet though I was still tired, I made the trek to Micro Center again, in the rain and carrying the old Power Supply. Orange Line, Red Line, Green Line, walk 10 minutes. I exchanged the Power Supply without issue, and picked up a couple of things that were missing: an HDMI cable (silly cheap monitor only had VGA), and a mouse pad, because the table surface didn't let the optical mouse work well.

Trudge back - Green Line, Red Line, Orange Line, and walk the 3 blocks home. In the rain.

Yet home I did arrive, and before I turned the camera on, I installed the Power Supply and fired up the computer, to be sure it worked before I rolled. It did. I finished my videos, stepping through setting up the BIOS. I split my 2TB hard drive into 1 TB partitions, installed Windows on one and left the other blank, intending to install MS Server 2012 on it when the time came.

But before I did that, I wanted a stable Windows setup. To my dismay, nothing seemed to work well at first, most notably the Ethernet. Then I remembered that the Motherboard came with its own installation disk. I ran through the installation, trying to skirt around the bloatware, and eventually got to the point where the Ethernet was recognized and I could surf the web, and begin the process of downloading and installing updates.

Anyone who has installed a fresh copy of Windows knows that the update process can take hours. So I used my laptop to do my daily routine and let the desktop computer do its thing. Hours went by and I'd glance at the monitor every now and then as the system first downloaded, then installed the updates, frequently restarting in the process. During one of those restarts, I saw something blue out of the corner of my eye, then the system restarted again. Blue again, restart. I got up and watched it go through its process again. I was getting the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, but the system was trying to restart each time. I started the system in Safe mode and that seemed to take it out of its infinite loop. The system said it was reverting back to a safe spot, and rebooted again. I started it normally, but still got an error message that the Group Policies task could not be started. That  meant that I could only run the system as the Admin.

That is where I left it, and I'm still deciding if I want to reinstall the system after performing a chkdsk to make sure there's no bad sectors in the hard drive.

But the plan is, when Windows 7 becomes stabilized, to install Server 2012 in a dual boot and record that process. I've never installed Server in any of its variations, so this will be a challenge.

Yet it's a challenge I don't have to walk all over Boston to achieve.

It's a mental challenge that I accept and expect to conquer.

Note: It's a day late, Windows has been successfully reinstalled and updated. Time to mke that Server video!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

New book: Foxism: An Alternative to Capitalism

What follows is the introduction to a new booklet I'm writing.


Ursula Le Guin, a writer whose work I admire, recently proposed that science fiction writers come up with ideas on alternatives to Capitalism. I’ve had the ideas that follow in my head for some time, churning as to what the details would be, what the pros and cons would be, what could go right, and, as my imagination kicked in, what could go horribly wrong.

I call it Foxism, perhaps out of a feeling of vanity, perhaps out of a desire to be remembered, A lot of social systems are named after their founders: Marxism, Taoism, etc., and some of those founders and authors are remembered well by some, reviled and ridiculed by others. If I’m remembered, I hope it will be positive.

It takes all kinds to make this world we live in. Foxism isn’t going to work for everyone. Those that embrace it will have to forego greed. Those that are greedy will consider it absurd. It will take a lot of work and cooperation. It will take a full embrace of the technologies that are available to do the menial tasks no one wants to do and to make the lives of every community members as comfortable as possible. 

If greed must be eliminated, so too must violence. Patience must be taught and so too should tolerance. But that doesn’t mean there will be no pride, no sense of accomplishment, no reward for hard work. It just can’t be in the form of money, or power.

So if you live for money or power, this system is not for you. But read on, you might learn something.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Paranoid and Hating It

As is my wont since I started to take the Silverline to and from work, I walked past the Boston Federal Courthouse today. In the past it had been a scene filled with officers of all types and a line of press and other bystanders. Today it was quiet. As I crossed the street to begin traversing the building, a mini-van pulled up to the last space before the street. It was a van covered in circular icons, and as I drew near I noticed it said 'Catering' on it. As I leaned down to look in the passenger window, a slight flow of paranoia creeping over me, and I saw the driver look at me. He was young, under 20 I'd say, was very thin but not very tall, had dark, curly hair and a slightly dark complection.

What made me move faster, in addition to all the above, was that he was just sitting in the van. It he was a legitimate caterer, he should have been jumping out of the van to do what needed to be done. I moved as fast as my poor knees would let me, fearing to be caught in a blast. If I'd had the presence of mind to remember I brought my camera, I might have even taken pictures or video.

I can safely say I was not caught in a blast, nor has any occurred as of this writing. As I moved away from the scene, the paranoia faded, and the temptation to call 911 waned. Then I got to thinking. Was he perhaps waiting for someone? He did seem a bit nervous when he saw me looking at him, Maybe he was picking someone up using compamy property. If I had acted rashly, things would certainly be different for him. The simple fact is I had no facts and therefore no justification in calling the police. Knowing them, in their own paranoia, made worse by the recent killing of someone who had threatened them, they would have moved in and shot him without provocation.

That's all right for them - well, no it isn't, really, but I understand where they're coming from. But for me, paranoia is a recent thing. I've never been at 'ground zero' of a major event, and the trial of the Boston Marathon Bomber had put me on an edge I really didn't like to be on.

But this is where I work, and I won't let the possibility of being blown up, no matter how remote, stop me from getting paid.

But that doesn't mean I like being paranoid. It's a feeling I really want to get rid of. Right now, though, I have to learn to deal with it. Because if I let it rule my life, then the terrorists win, amiright?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Debilitating Migraine

I went home from work early today with a migraine.

A lot of people think that those that suffer from migraines are faking it or exaggerating the symptoms, so I want ro describe to you what I felt like today and you can make up your own damn mind.

Yes, being easily irritated is a symptom, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I first felt a migraine in 1993 when a co-worker wore too much perfume. I didn't realize at the time what it was except an allergic reaction. So smells can be a trigger for me. Stress can also be a trigger.

Today's migraine was caused by a combination the two, both attributed to the same person, a coworker. I won't say what caused the stress, but wafting cologne in my direction didn't help.

It starts with a feeling of irritation at the slightest provocation. I'd been feeling out of sorts all morning, but that could be caused by a number of things. But after the cologne hit me, the irritation grew, First at the jerk who wore too much, then at the people I was trying to help. And you don't realize that you're irritated until you suddenly snap at someone who is trying to help you. I did that with a co-worker who sent an instant message while I was on a particularly annoying call. Don't get me wrong, even without the migraine building up, I would have found that call annoying, but I would have forgotten about it, even laughed at it under normal circumstances.

But today that wasn't the case. After the call mercifully ended, and before I could reach through the phone to strangle this woman who didn't want to GET OFF MY PHONE, I got another message from the co-worker who said he only wanted to know if it was the same person he had talked to earlier. It wasn't, but that made me realize something was wrong.

I hadn't felt the tell-tale signs of pressure behind my right eye, but I knew I was off-kilter. I sent an email asking to leave early, and only when I was shutting down my system did I start to feel the pressure.

As I started home, the other symptoms of a migrane came forth: sensitivity to light, and noises. That meant the noisy construction site across from where I worked made me feel worse, The sounds of buses and trains made me feel worse, I really wanted to strangle two of the subway musicians that play all the time. AND WHY IS THE TRAIN TAKING SO MUCH TIME TO GET HERE!!!

When the train finally came I forced myself into an empty seat that SOMEONE WAS STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF, OH WHY IS HE DOING THAT!??? and settled in. I covered my sensitive eyes with my 'I Choose Not To Talk' cap, and prayed for no delays. I made it home safely, and began to write this blog. I'm preparing to shut down my computer, put out the lights and curl into a fetal position and try to ignore the sounds of sirens and my neighbors.

It's times like this that I wish I'd get off my butt and find a leathermaker who can make a prototype of my Thinking Cap, something resembling a flying cap with flaps over the ears and eyes that will block out sights and sounds. Someday, but not today. Good night.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Life Goals: Finding where my talents lie

In my 54 years of existence, I have tried to be a lot of different things. As a child I went through being a fireman, a pilot and an astronaut. I envisioned myself going into the military and rising the ranks quickly, because both my father and stepfather were in the Air Force. It couldn't be that hard to rise in ranks quickly? amirite?

Talents: Imaginative, but nothing concrete

As I grew older I found my personality had limits, but my imagination did not. Fantastic goals became more realistic. I found things I was better at than most, specifically languages. I took Spanish and French in Junior High and High School. I had a dream of being a translator for the United Nations. I even planned around that, asking my French teacher what school was best for tht kind of career. She suggested Middlebury, in Vermont.

Talents; Languages, spoken and written

I added Middlebury to my dream colleges of Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. I wanted Dartmouth because my father went there. But when it came to apply and interview for such colleges, Harvard and Yale said no. Dartmouth interviewed me but ultimately said no. Middlebury was also a no-go. I even applied for the Air Force, and they said no, even though my test scores were reasonably high. That was the most unkind cut, because I was sure my fathers' being in it would help. The Army was interested, but I wanted the Air Force, and said no.

So I wound up going to Florida State University and majoring at the start in French, still that dream of being a translator in the back of my mind. But I was also learning other things that piqued my curiosity. I was told computers were a good future, so I took some computer courses and found that I liked them. This was in 1980 or thereabouts. PC's were still being perfected. I worked with mainframes learning programming. I got to the point where French had less appeal and so I committed myself to Computer Science.

Talents: Programming Mainframes

But Computer Science is not an easy major. I found the programming aspect and the logic of it appealing to my personality. I found the necessary math and science courses to be less appealing, and even downright humbling. I had found something I was not good at for the first time: Linear Algebra and Discrete Math. I had to take Discreet Mathematics 3 times before I got a passing grade. It had devastating results on my GPA, leading to my removal from Florida State.

Something I wasn't good at: Higher Mathematics

But in the meantime, I was looking for work, and found a small computer shop willing to take me on as a contract programmer. On one hand I was thrilled at actually putting what I'd learned to good use, but I was too naive when it came to contracts and ultimately, they took advantage of me and did not pay me what I was worth. It was, however, a good experience.

Talents: Learns quickly. Cons: Not quickly enough to avoid being used.

In the coming years I took jobs that had nothing to do with computers: Clerical work for an insurance company and clerical work for a phone company. During that time, I started to study electronics. It was one of those chain 'colleges' that promised more than they could offer, who told me that student loans would cover everything and I wouldn't have to start paying it back until I'd been out of school 6 months. Being as naive as I was, I bought into it.

Talents: Electronics. Cons: still young and trusting.

The long and short of it was: I was pretty good at electronics, but the training was insufficient to find steady work. Another potential career shot down, and I now had student loans to pay back.

Cons: Poor.

It took me another ten years, working sales, clerical and even at a wild-west theme park before I had my first inkling of the career that to this day I am pursuing: writing. I was in a position of relative comfort, working for another phone company doing clerical work, and doing the job well. I wrote a story for the first time. My imagination started to fire up and show me its potential.

Talents: Writing, working menial tasks. Cons: Can get complacent.

My company paid for my re-entrance into college, where I majored in Broadcast Journalism, another area where I had interest. I was curious about doing that, because I had written that story and I thought it would make a good TV series. So I wanted to see what things were like behind the scenes in Television. But the courses I took were mainly for newscasts. Given my lack on on-screen talent, I tried to change that by taking a course called 'Voice of the Actor.'

Talents: The raw materials are there for acting. Cons: I don't want to use them.

Now before we delve into that, you need to understand that throughout my life I've had trouble talking, whether it was publicly or privately, I could not express myself very well vocally. I speak with a soft voice and I stutter, especially when I'm nervous. But in that course I learned a few techniques that might allow me to perform in front of people: Breathing from the diaphragm, pretending the audience wasn't there and things like that. I performed a couple of soliloquies from 'Inherit the Wind,' one of my favorite plays and movies. I did this in front of the class, and I knew they didn't think much of my performance. It didn't matter to me. The teacher was thrilled to get me out of my shell.

Talents: Speaking softly and carrying nothing. Cons: Can't project with any kind of consistency.

I knew I would never be an actor, voice or otherwise, but the whole series of classes gave me a taste of what it would take to produce a TV series.

Unfortunately, my employer ultimately stopped paying for the classes and I made the decision to keep pursuing the 'dream' and began working part-time at TV stations as part of their news crews. I had no delusions of being a reporter, but I gave serious thought to being a director and producer. I was hired as an Associate Director at one station, where for the first six months of the job I worked the camera, the graphics (CHYRON), the audio, and editing and directing short segments. Then they put me into the morning show and really tried to train me and test my directing skills.

Skills: Behind the scenes during a newscast: Camera, audio, graphics, video editing.

All of the training I had done before did not properly prepare me for the stress of directing a live newscast. The directors I worked with made it look easy. When they put me on the live newscast, I sometimes made mistakes on air. That happens with a certain amount of frequency on most newscasts, but I made a few too many on-air mistakes, including one segment where I pushed a graphic too early in the middle of a pet segment and left the reporter seemingly talking to no one.

That freaked out the producer, and ultimately led to my being let go. Life lessons learned? The producer has the real power.

Talents: fast-thinking, Cons: Hands don't always work with the brain

After that I found work in what was a new field for me: Customer Service via the phone. I want to state unequivocally that I hate talking on the phone. But for some reason, I'm good at it. I have a soft speaking voice, and the techniques learned during that voice class paid off. So began a streak of phone work jobs that continues to this day.

Talents: Good phone voice, good computer skills. Cons: I hate it.

And yet, it's not without stress. In a high call volume call center, the stress of going from one call to another forced me to leave several jobs and vow never to do that sort of work again.

Talents: Workhorse, troubleshooting, critical thinking. Cons: No ability to relieve stress.

But the one thing in my life that has not changed throughout my lifetime is my ability to imagine things. I imagine the future; I contemplate the past and try to rework it for a better ending. I come up with stories and within those stories I can - in my mind - become one of my characters. And those characters have some of my traits, and some traits I don't have. For instance, I let my mind wander into that of a female character who is built, is brainy and can sing her heart out. In those interludes I found a talent I never had before: song writing. Because that character has that talent and she sings the songs and I can actually hear her voice singing those songs.

Talents: Song-Writing, character immersion. Cons: no other musical talent. ie: I'm not dexterous enough to play instruments.

But those moments only come when I can meditate in quiet solitude, or when I can block out everything else in my life. This is a talent that took years to develop. In my youth I could not block out extraeneous events. My brain tried to process everything around me, and I didn't realize this until fairly recently, but I'm empathic, and my brain was on overload.

Talents: Empathic, empathetic. Cons: Brain Overload

So now, when things get too stressful for me, I have the means to push it all aside, delve into my imaginary world and life, and cope with the stress better. Overall, I feel like everything is coming together in my life, to make me happier, and to let people better understand me.

Talents: Ability to cope with stress through meditation. Less naive.

I'm much calmer these days, in a job where I feel my talents are being better used, where I have time to use my imagination to create stories and songs, which I hope someday will lead me to a successful career as an artist.

Life goal: Artist.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Caring: (Love and Affection) or (Love or Affection)

(Begin Tangent)

In my chosen solitary life, I have spent many a minute watching the behavior of different people. And sadly, I have watched a relationship turn from passion to simple affection, to nothing. So today I want to tell you how I feel about love and affection.

If I were to Venn Diagram it, the result would have to be two different graphs. The simple rule is: you can show love for someone without being affectionate about them. Likewise, you can show affection without true love. In other words, 'never the twain shall meet.'

Examples of that might be a fangirl or fanboi at a convention, showing their affection through cosplaying their favorite character. But can you really love a fictional character?

As a writer and a reader, I do find myself infatuated by well-written and developed characters in a book, a TV show or a movie. I can say: 'Ooh, I love so and so in that movie,' but am I referring to the actress, or the role she's playing? Is it lust I feel or something else?

But lust and affection are really on opposite ends of the scale. According to Wikipedia, that scale is love, where affection and lust are considered different types of love.

But I disagree with that distinction. I believe it's possible to have affectionate feelings for someone and not love them. Likewise you can feel love for someone and care about them deeply, but not be affectionate with them. Maybe it's an abusive situation, maybe 'the thrill is gone' from a relationship that used to be about love and affection, but now is just about the love. Maybe even the love is gone, and what are you left with then? Memories.

So what's the difference between love and affection? I think love is an overall feeling for a person, usually a relative, that may or may not be affectionate. Love can be shown by using affectionate methods, like touching, talking, interacting in some way that is pleasant for both parties, because unlike lust, true affection needs to go both ways.

And there's the difference. Love, in the form of infatuation, can be a one-way street, but for affection to work, it has to be mutual. You can show affection for someone or something, but if it's not reciprocated, it loses its meaning. That's called unrequited love.

In the long run, Love, Affection, Lust and Infatuation may increase and decrease, so how does one maintain an emotional balance?

You can't. Not and remain human. If your life is not in constant emotional turmoil for one reason or another, you're no better than a robot. In fact, I've seen some robots that can show more emotion that Mr. Spock. But we're not Vulcans. We're human, and we have to live with it.

(End Tangent)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Potpourri for an Endless Winter

A few notes about the things revolving around my life:

1. The move to Boston has been completed, at least temporarily. I have moved into a room in a house in Roxbury Crossing. The lease ends at the end of August, unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be) the lease is not renewable. So in August my search for someplace with an on-going lease will commence.

2. I say that this is probably fortunate because the room I'm in is in the basement, and since winter refuses to stop, the basement is cold. I froze while trying to earn enough to pay all the rents (first, last, current) and slept on the floor until just a few days ago, when I bought a lounge chair that I'm using for a bed. I also bought a space heater, so things are warmer and slightly more comfortable than before.

3. I did have an issue with the chair at first, when, after setting it up for the first time, and trying to sit in it, the chair slid on the tile floor and I landed rather hard on my rump. I jarred my back to the point where I felt a burning pain in the middle of it. I was seriously tempted to call for an ambulance, but after carefully sitting in the chair, the burning eased. But then the next morning I had difficulty walking. I did not go to the hospital and eventually the middle back issue stopped being an issue. My lower back, however, is acting up again. The chair is not comfirtable to sit in for long periods of time, and somewhat uncomfortable to lie in overnight. I sometimes wake up to find no feeling in the arm I'm sleeping on. The feeling does come back, but I may still wind up taking the chair back - once I find an alternative to sleeping on the floor.

4.But things are starting to settle down financially and that will help make things more comfortable. I suspect during the hot summer months (they do get hot in Boston, right?) that the room will be the most comfortable in the house.

5. In other news, work is going well. I work as a contract employee, technically for Astadia, but the client is Vertex in Boston. Vertex has 3 buildings near the courthouse in Boston, making things somewhat uncomfortable with the Marathon trial going on next door. But what makes it really worthwhile is their cafeteria. That's not even a fair word to use. It's like an actual restaurant, with high quality food at a reasonable price. Reasonable in Boston means you eat for $10 or less per meal. I tell my co-workers that I'll go broke eating there and still be happy. I still mean that. About going broke and being happy.

6. I've already blogged about the Boston Subway, the MBTA. Things have improved since that blog. I now get to work early every day. The trains run more often and cars aren't quite as jam-packed as before. I could see why Bostonians were so upset if what I'm experiencing now is the norm.

7. Personal health: Other than back problems, the rest of my health is pretty much unchanged. The amount of stairs in the subway stations was killing my knees, so I've found the elevators in short order. The bottom line is: one moment the knees feel fine, the next they either hurt or feel very uncomfortable. The shoulder has not changed a bit in the last 2 years. I still have limited movement and no strength on it. Such is life for me.

8. On the good side, I now have health insurance for the first time since 2009. Maybe I can get some of this stuff taken care of.

9. My writng has been off and on. I don't have a desk at home yet, so I have to lay on the chair with the laptop on my chest and type, just like I'm doing with the blog. It's slow and uncomfortable, but it will get the job done - eventually.

10. I will be seeing my daughter for the first time in 3 years when we both attend Anime Boston. I'm looking forward to both events.

And on that happy note I'll leave you.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fate, Begone!

I used to think Fate had it in for me, I even started a story in my mind showing Fate as an actual entity. The thing is, people get in my way. It happens everywhere I go. I walk down a seemingly empty hallway, but when I come to a door or a perpendicular corridor, someone is there blocking my way. I'm trying to cross a street that seems not so busy, then 5 cars show up out of nowhere to keep me from crossing.

I kept imagining that Fate had something in store for me, if I just waited a few more seconds. Never was that more clear than the time I was hit by the car. In my dreams I see Fate as benevolent when his 'suggestions' are followed, but cruel when I make up my mind that I'm going to push forward. So in my mind, Fate ordered that girl to run me down.

Violent fantasies aside, the truth is, I have a generally good perception of what and who are around me. I saw that car coming, but was trapped in traffic.

But it's in my nature to avoid contact. So I can see those who barrel through hallways and make the adjustments without thinking to avoid them. I pull back, I stop, I move to avoid a collision. Well, except that one time.

I wonder, though, if this is part of my senses. And often I wonder: Is this a good thing? Yeah, I'm avoiding a collision, possible avoiding a fight over personal space, but there have been missed opportunities when I 'hesitated.' And yes, according to the old adage, I have hesitated and I have lost.

But I have survived.

And you know what? I'm tired of just surviving. I want to explore my new domain in Boston without being forced to play by somebody else's rules. Oh, I'll still be careful and plan things out as best I can, but I'd like to be more spontaneous than before. So, Fate Begone! I am the master of my own destiny.

Monday, February 2, 2015

How Was My First Day on the MBTA?

How Was My First Day on the MBTA?

I'm glad you asked. Let me tell you, step by step, how my day went.

1. After having zonked out before the Super Bowl ended, from exhaustion after dragging 1 heavy bag, a computer bag and a laden backpack all over Wakefield, I woke at 5am and prepared for my first day in Boston as a working stiff. Mind you, I had done my research, knew what bus to take and where to catch the subway. I went out into the stinging snow with just my computer case and my winter coat, layered over more clothes.

2. I went out of the motel where I'm staying (God help me it better be temporary) at 6am, knowing it would take me a few minutes to trudge through the snow to where the bus would stop.

3. And waited.

4. And waited. The snow stung, my feet felt frozen and I almost got run over by a snow plow while I waited for the bus. I seriously thought about going back to the motel and working from there, But I wanted to make the commute. Finally a bus came out of the quarter-mile visibilty, but IT was on time. The bus I wanted never came. Cue eerie portents of evil music and echos of frustration.

5. Yet a bus did come and I made it to Oak Grove T station at a point where I knew I would be late, so I called it in. It's a funny thing about subway stations: Any time stairs are involved there is an escalator going up, but not generally one going down. With my gimpy leg, and especially with icy/snow-covered steps, I took one step at a time. I think that cost me missing one train into the city, adding to my delay.

6. Yet into the city I ultimately traveled. I was lucky to have been at the beginning of the Orange Line when I caught the train, because as we traveled toward the city, more and more people got on. Even on a snowy, blustery day, people were willing to make the commute in. The whole train was packed by the time we got to my destination: North Station.

7. From North Station I was supposed to catch a shuttle to the building where I work. I'm grateful they provide the service, but I didn't know where to meet the shuttle, so I called my boss, who promptly told me he didn't have a clue, he always used the shuttle at South Station. He gave me the number of someone in the building, but he only took the South shuttle too. He suggested I ask around. I noticed most people heading in one direction, so I followed them. I found about half a dozen shuttles idling outside. Naturally mine was the last one.

8. The shuttle trip was uneventful, except for the slow pace of it. The driver took it nice and easy going in, and at that point I was just grateful I made it in. I got to work about an hour late.

9. After work, I took the shuttle back to North Station, and waited for the Orange Line train to come.

10. And waited.

11. And waited. I figure I spent more time waiting for trains and buses than actally traveling in them. The sign said the train would arrive in 15 minutes, then 12, then 8, then 2, then 2, then 2, then 2. The train did come eventually, and then they tried to close the doors. Bing Bong. One of the doors didn't close properly, the opened the door and tried to close them again. Bing Bong. Again. Bing Bong.

12. At this point I hear the voice of an old woman rise about the fray, cursing MBTA and accusing the conductor of 'playing with the doors.' She was loud, she was obnoxious. She was swearing so much a sailor would be embarrassed, and this continued for a good 15 minutes until finally, someone gave the ok to ignore the warning. We began to pull out and then the train slammed on the brakes. Old fussypants starts to rant and rave again.

13. Finally, we did pull out, but we were very slow throughout the process. Sparks flew from the top of the rain, and really made me worry something was going to catch fire. I know that sparking is normal, though I don't know why it happens. The lights would go out over and over, setting off the mentally ill woman who I coujld see by now was sitting in a corner with two full shopping carts filled with ????? And in case we couldn't figure it out by then, she shouted that she was homeless and if we didn't like that we could kill her now. She spoke to the air and to her self.

Part of me really felt for her. The formerly homeless part. The other part of me said this is why homeless people have a bad name. Part of me wanted to reach out, but then she started stinking, and I was exhausted and just wanted to go home. At the end of the line, the train went out of service and she demanded one of us help her get her carts out. She didn't want the help of the MBTA, and said we'd all die if we didn't help her. My sympathy only goes so far. If you can't help yourself, and aren't willing to seek the help of those trained to help you, then how am I supposed to help you? I care, but you're making it very difficult, lady.

14. Finally the train took me and Miss Stinkyfussypants to Oak Grove and I got off as quickly as I could, one more leg to go before getting home. So I waited, along with half a dozen others for the bus to take me home.

15. And waited.

16. And waited. Given how many people were waiting, and the nature of subway trains, you'd think MBTA would have buses running more often after 7pm. It makes for a very tiring day to work 8-5 in Boston.

Suffice to say, the last bus came and I am home, warm, dry and ready for bed.

I will find someplace a bit closer in the long run, but until then, I have to play the Mass Transit game.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Yet Another Transition: Boston Bound

When I first started working for Astadia a little over a year ago, I was grateful for having a job. As I became more competent and comfortable with the work, I knew I had made the right decision to go to work there. Not that there was a choice, remain homeless and jobless, vs having a job and a home, however temporary.

Then the news came that the client I worked for had decided not to renew their contract. Doubt entered my mind, old fears of shelters came back. And the shelter in Raleigh had changed. No more Mr. Nice Guys at the shelter, and only two weeks to find a job, if that much.

But the contract wouldn't end until the end of the year, and I had time. The client had chosen another company to provide support and I gave serious thought and considerable effort to getting a job there. It would mean a move to Pennsylvania, but I've never been afraid of moving to start or keep a job.

I did it first when moving from Denver to Omaha while working for US West. I took another chance when I took a job in Lynchburg, VA.That didn't work out as planned. I moved again to Blacksburg, VA to work for Dish Network.

I left that job voluntarily (burned out because of non-stop calls) and spent a few months jobless and homeless in Roanoke. Then came the opportunity to move to Raleigh. I had enough money to take a bus there, stayed in the shelter for a while before I found work with Sento.

I have stayed in Raleigh pretty much the whole time, except for when I was flush with cash from my accident settlement, and took a chance to travel around the country, creating videos that even now get hits on Youtube. But the money ran out, and instead of settling someplace else, I returned to Raleigh, where I was familiar with the lay of the land and the people in it.

So I'm no stranger to moving around. Moving to Pennsylvania made sense. I knew the client, I knew the systems and I could just slip right into the role.

Then I heard about a position with Astadia in Boston. I have to admit Boston appeals to me on so many levels. It's a big city, with professional sports teams in baseball, basketball, football and hockey.  There's probably a soccer team there too.

Boston has a transit system that makes Raleigh look like it's using horses and buggies. It takes me 2 hours to get to work every morning and another 2 to get back home. In Boston, I hope to cut that in half.

And I have family in Massachusetts. It will be nice to see my daughter on a regular basis rather than once every few years. I think that's the biggest draw.

Another draw is the difference in pay. The Pennsylvania job gave me a preliminary offer of $11/hr, plus benefits. I was waiting on a final offer that might have equaled what I was currently making when I got wind that the Boston job was almost a certainty, just waiting for the approvals. I knew I'd make more in Boston, it was just a matter of how much more. Before I even got the Boston offer, I turned down the Pennsylvania offer.

I've spent the last month and a half getting the initial training in Raleigh, working the phones in a familiar setting before I go to Boston and the setting changes. I've looked into finding a place to live, but was waiting on a bonus from Astadia to make a firmer commitment.

I have that bonus. I have made a reservation on Amtrak to start heading to Boston a week from today, arriving a week from Sunday. I still do not have a permanent place to live, but then I've been living out of a motel for the last year, so for me to find someplace similar in the Boston area will be fairly easy.

And so we're back to the transition. I'm looking forward to it more than anything else in my life the last 3 years. Let the leaves fall where they may. I'm ready for change.