Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why Am I Here?

Good day to you, fellow Castaways. Thanks for popping by. Sit yourselves on the sofa, grab a cup of coffee from the cart, swipe a pastry or two (you know you want to).

This past week I was sitting here thinking, great. I have a blog. Everyone tells me if I have a blog, I need to have a focus, a consistent theme of some sort. Recently, I was taken to task by someone who said, "Aren't you here to sell books? Sell books, and stop scaring away readers!" Okay, so here I am being Mr. Friendly Author. If you want to buy my book, you can click on my Books Page and take it from there.

Okay, that's done. Hey, I'd love to sell books. But if all I'm here to do is market my novels, don't you think people will get tired of coming here week after week and getting commercials? I don't watch TV for the ads, guys, and I don't have ads on my blog for a reason. There's enough ads out there.


I want a place where anybody can stop by, relax, and have a chat with a friend. We don't always have to agree on a point, or on the subject. We're just here to get to know each other a little better, to come away a little Closer To The Heart, as the song goes.


I don't expect everybody to agree with me. I'm an odd sort, and if anyone did agree with me on everything, I'd consider that a red flag. We're all who we are, and no one should ever endeavor to be "just like" anybody else. Humans are all different. And that's a glorious and precious thing.

Plus, it occurs to me, we all need a place to come where we are appreciated and loved right where we are. There's enough going on around us to tear us down, tell us we aren't "good enough," point out our every mistake. There's more than enough folks who think the only way to elevate themselves is to lower everyone else around them. Don't we just want to get a break from all the crap the day hands us? Don't we all just need a hug once in a while? Seriously, I know I'm sounding like a bleeding heart wimp, but think about it: One solid hug a day (more, as required) simply tells us that we are of value to someone. Who the hell wants to fight after receiving a hug from someone they value?


The great thing about a hug is that it's just there.  In abundance. An inexhaustible supply of simple, human love. You can just never run out of them. For every hurting person, for every broken heart, for every lonely, tortured soul, there is a hug. And you can get one right here.

So I guess the theme for my blog is, "Here's me. Come on in and get to know me. While you're here, get a free hug."

We might discuss some political point, or some point of faith. Or share something from my writing, or another author, or the Queen of Persia. But if we differ, we can do it in a safe place, where we honor and respect each other, and show where our hearts are, rather than screaming and fighting.

Hey, it's my blog. I can do what I want, right?

Have another cup. It's good stuff. Trust me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Art of Breathing: How to Fight Depression and Win

Someone reading this is struggling. This is for you. If you're not struggling, read anyway, so you can help someone who is. I'm not a doctor. I'm just a guy who struggles, too. And I've found the secret to getting through. It's called "breathing."

Life is life. We can't explain it, we can't predict it. It is what it is, and sometimes your world just gets rocked. And by that, I mean not in a good way. It's in those times when you get leveled by a boxcar from above that you re-evaluate your priorities.

My daughter had to say goodbye yesterday to her dearest and closest friend. The lady got married, and they will be living in Alaska. I'll miss her, too. She's a good kid, and those two were thick as thieves. But life is life, and life is what it is. It's not like her friend died or anything. But then again, maybe it feels pretty damn close. Alaska may as well be another universe for a friend that close. The point is, my daughter is very down right now.

I've found in storms like this that it boils down to the basics. Situations hit, like atom bombs in our lives. A loss by death. Your friend moving away. That lab report that changes everything. One moment that can destroy your freedom. So many things can knock us right down, and so many people have no idea how to get back up again. The wallow in depression and just fade away.

I knew a woman several years ago who struggled with depression. My best friend was recently floored by a perfect storm in his life, and we spent a good deal of time scraping him off the floor in pieces and gluing him back together. It's horrid stuff, depression. It can steal away your ability to function. If you let it.

As one who has been run over by a few freight trains in my life (like the sudden death of my brother, loss of my father and younger sister to cancer, a son with severe disabilities, and a daughter I nearly lost before she was three, among other storms), I can speak from experience. I still fight my own depression once in a while.

There once was a time I could languish in my depression and give the circumstances time to immobilize me. I could lay on the couch for hours and just corrode, mentally. That was before I became a dad and husband. I could afford the loss of time. But now things are different. I had to learn how to work through and remain functional.

Yeah, it makes me sound like a machine. But when you're floored with circumstances, "functional" takes on a whole new meaning. "Functional" is where you're at. Look at it this way:

Okay, right now you're helpless. I get that. But you're breathing, right? I'll prove it. Take a breath. Good, yeah, you did it. Don't space out on me, some people don't realize how big a step it is to willfully take a breath. Okay, now take another one. Who cares if you're still lying on your side on the couch with a mountain of snotty, tear-soaked  Kleenex on the floor under your face. You're breathing. So breathe. Don't worry about your heart; it'll handle beating all on its own (in most cases). Just breathe for a while.

Once you get the hang of breathing, things actually get easier. Believe me, they do. If you can breathe, you can sit up. You have to go to the bathroom anyway. Sitting up is right on your way. So sit up. Now, if you can sit up, you can stand. Not "you may." You CAN. If you need help, get some. But you need to get that standing thing down before you go ay further. Note that by "standing" I include those among us who need wheels as well. Standing is a relative term. I don't care if you hate your chair, especially if that's the cause for your depression. Mobility is the next step. It takes an act of will. If you can't handle a step, don't worry about it. Just back up to the previous one. Breathe. Sit. Get mobile. Those are the basics.

Now, look at what's next: eat and drink. I know, things are getting to be a challenge now. We're getting into areas that require action.  Willful action. By "willful" I don't mean wanting to do it. I mean taking action by an act of your will. Crying isn't an act of will. Eating is.If you're still crying though breathing and sitting up, that's okay. You can address that later.

The key to breathing is to keep doing it, and take each step at a time. You don't go from the couch back to work in one huge quantum leap. I can remember when eating and drinking to me was a sign of things actually getting better. First, it meant I had food, and the utility companies hadn't cut off my power or my water. Yay me. I already had the first three steps under my belt, and I was eating. All on my own, too. I'm not being funny; it was that bad.

Next was keeping the utilities on. That meant work. It meant functioning as a profitable member of my company team. I'd get up, go to work, come home, and most evenings would find me back on that couch with the pile of Kleenex. But you know what? I was functional. Kind of like when you really need a car and you buy a '78 rust-bucket with no muffler and a busted windshield, where you can see the road through the holes in the floorboard and the trunk is falling out and there's no rear bumper because that rusted off a long time ago. BUT, it starts in the morning (even if you have to pump your leg furiously for the first five minutes just to keep it running), and when you push on the gas it goes, when you push the brake, it stops. And when you turn the wheel, it turns, hopefully in the same direction. That kind of "functional."

See, you can do it. It's one step at a time, and you don't have to lie to yourself (unless that's what it takes to get you to sit up). Do what you have to do, when you have to do it. Tomorrow doesn't exist. There's only This Moment and how to get through it.

And you can do it. Just start with breathing. Because it will get better. You will win.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors!

Greetings, Castaways.

I seem to have picked up some regular blog readers (who haven't signed on as followers yet, for some reason) from some really cool places recently, and I want to personally acknowledge them. So to our newer readers in China, Romania, Spain, Germany, Poland, Cyprus, Belgium and other unexpected places, I say, "Welcome, and thank you for viewing!"

In case you don't know it, I write novels, mainly thrillers and science fiction.  My debut novel Becoming NADIA won the EPIC Award for Best Thriller, so if you like a white-knuckle ride through the pages, feel free to check it out. You can read a free excerpt at:

Part Two of the series is another thriller with deep discussions of identity and relationship titled Unalive:

Of course, we wouldn't leave you hanging, would we? So we finish up the story of Nadia Velasquez with Book Three, Critical Mass:

How do you like that cover art? My artist is Delilah K. Stephans.

Now, the series at this point is technically complete. But there's just one loose end that we need to sew up, and that's the story of the origin of the Pinnacle's most dangerous secret agent Jenna Paine:

I had a lot of fun writing this series, and I think you'll enjoy reading it. It's getting a lot of great reviews from all over the place.

And now we return you to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Microcebus Murinus at Bear Cave

...and, Happy Saturday, fellow castaways!

I trust your week was fruitful, if not downright peachy.

I missed last week's post, because the Keith family had to get away. It was the first family vacation we've had in almost twenty years, believe it or not. We seem to have hit a point where all the medical specialists in Western Lower Michigan are comfortably making their car payments, so it was our turn to have some family time that didn't involve surgical waiting rooms or a massive, multicolored wire medusa stuck to someone's head after a sleepless night. So we took to it with Gusto.

We rented a cottage at a camp resort about an hour and a half away (little steps, people, little steps!) and settled in for a week of fishing, boating, and out-of-touch-with-all-electronics leisure.

And got what IT specialists refer to as "an undocumented feature.".

Maxwell showed up on the third day, eager to meet the new residents of the Manager's House (what the resort called our cottage. Long story, but it used to be the resort manager's house, several owners ago. Okay, I guess it wasn't such a long story, but there you go. It was a nice little place with two bedrooms and a pull-out sofa in the living room that had this bar--) *One hundred medieval soldiers on nearest hilltop scream, "Get on with it!*

Okay, so there was this mouse. A little gray rat-bag of a mouse that at least had the decency to not run over someone's face in their sleep, or gnaw through our Pop-Tart boxes before he showed up (albeit late on Wednesday night, without even bothering to knock. Oh, the nerve).

What is it about mice that draws them to females of our species? What is it about their timing that makes them always show up when the man of the house is engaged in manly functions not related to having immediate freedom of movement? O Mouse, must you rob Man even of his dignity? I was deeply involved with such a movement-restricting manly activity when an unearthly shriek was heard coming from the kitchen area of the house (the kitchen? Seriously? How stereotypical. This mouse obviously had no imagination).

Okay, so I had maybe this one shred of malicious glee, imagining the ages-old war erupting on the other side of the bathroom door with one micro-bear and three females of my species. Then I shook myself-- from my reverie (where was your mind?) and thoroughly washed my hands before dashing bravely into the living quarters, where my wife was perched screaming on a dining chair as my daughters dashed from refuge to vain refuge in various corners while this tiny gray shadow dashed furiously from corner to corner, under the couch, behind various appliances, and in general trying to cover as many square feet as it could at one time, with my gallant and courageous sons in hot pursuit, heaving shoes, fishing lures, and kitchen utensils in a manner that would have made George S. Patton cringe in terror. Where's a timed artillery barrage when you really need it?

With a battle cry handed down from father to son since the days my ancestors swung claymores and charged into action wearing kilts (not little dresses! Although they immobilized the enemy into helpless fits of laughter just before being hacked into little bits by claymore-wielding ancestors), I bellowed our traditional Nya-a-a-a-a-a-rgh!!! (c)  before wading into the fray.

The enemy was under the stove. My spinning rod was fit with a Hula-Popper. It was the perfect combination of floppy bits, metal hooks and tiny ends that would surely drag the fugitive into the open where it could be dispatched with authority and determination. Although, as I swept the weapon under the stove, I wondered where I would get a kilt with which to immobilize the creature by helpless fits of laughter before performing the dreadful deed. I am a traditionalist, after all.

After several minutes of fruitless mouse-fishing, I came to the conclusion the creature had chosen a tactical withdrawal, at least for the evening. We settled in for the long haul, switching sides on the living room floor (I would take the side closer to the kitchen). The kiddos settled into their beds on either end of the cottage, and the rest of the night passed in a tenuous state of detente.

The next day, we explained through sleep-starved lips at the camp store our exploits of the previous evening. The staff set us up with appropriate anti-cebus weaponry, and we set about laying out our ambuscades. With much-practiced hands (I grew up in Rodent Central, after all), I supplemented each bait tray with a smear of chunky peanut butter (Mice love peanut butter. Everybody loves peanut butter. Anyone who doesn't love peanut butter is a weirdo) and set them in various strategic locations, most notably beside the stove (The last place Maxwell was seen). After spending the daylight hours engaged in various leisure activities (Be jealous. Be very jealous), we retired for the evening.

Sometime in the night, our older daughter grunted and swatted at her face, thinking maybe Maxwell had just made a guerrilla raid on the residence. This triggered an instantaneous response from her sister, who raised the alert with a series of blood-curdling screams emitted in that frequency range and amplitude reserved for sonic weapons. In other words, from over in their room there arose such a clatter I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. I promptly tripped over three fishing poles, a tackle box and three life preservers before stumbling into the room and clotheslining myself on a canoe paddle stretched across the doorway.

After determining the absence of threat, I assured the girls Maxwell would be more interested in the kitchen than the bedrooms, and spent the rest of the night in restless anxiety.

Sometime between the false alarm and the dawn creeping up over the eastern horixzon, however, Maxwell Mouse met his maker. We were almost sorry to see him thus undone, but what can you say. It's a war, son; no one comes out clean. The rest of the week remained largely uneventful, much to our relief. I think we actually slept the next night or two.

So what what do you do to relax?