Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I'm a real boy!

I've finally decided to begin "solidifying" my online presence. In quotations because nothing online is concrete or permanent in any sense, but at least there's now something there which defines the space and ties my internet activities together.

Though still somewhat bland, I've followed the latest standards in assembling something which works for me. Whether or not this will ever lead to anything productive beyond simple experience and exercise is unknown - I'm treating it with professionalism regardless. By professionalism I mean my distinct version of it, which can also be self-effacing and tongue in cheek. It also has a particularly geeky bent, which I don't mind but am not going to over-emphasize as a defining character trait.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome, especially regarding content which you may expect to find but is currently absent: I'm still fleshing it out, and ideas would definitely help.

Go there now:

Friday, March 24, 2006

Staying the Course

Having just re-read "Exceptionism" and "Repressed, renewed..." in context with one another, I'm surprised at the prescience and solidarity demonstrated by my subconscious.

The similarity and reiteration of themes is impressive to me. One of the first areas to suffer as a result of my sleep disruption is memory - my journal especially reflects this, with repetition of large areas and ideas across multiple entries even chronologically close together. Can't keep it straight for some reason, and/or should start to re-read recent entries before I try making a new one (which isn't always possible).

Back to this, though: somehow the underlying currents remain true. No matter how scattered I may feel on the surface, the deep water currents have a unified and predictable flow. This makes me happy, and gives me hope that some anchor will prevent me from drifting too far, and a proverbial compass (to make the analogy complete) guides my course - even if I'm a little to dumb too see it on a day to day pace.

I should spend some time far removed from the cares of my own life, get a high level view on things. AKA, I need a vacation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I was thinking yesterday on the drive to work, about the nature of writing. Why writers do, what it means to them (I don't feel qualified to say "us" by a long shot), and what it takes.

As I settled onto what it takes, I realized that many of my recent attempts at prose have suffered from a need to perfectly craft the entire story: setting, characters, plot elements, all requiring an airtight intersection and agreement with one another. I've struggled with this before, but more from a perspective of accusing myself of procrastination - an inability to actually commit to the movement of the pen (keyboard, whatever) until I had everything in place, and the ability to keep that goal line perpetually extended into the future.

This never felt quite right though, because I would put in the effort - a mind-numbing amount of it on select details and tangents of exploration and research, hunting for that minutia which would make my crafted reality indistinguishable from any other. The thought being that at a book signing, were this to scale up to a novel, readers would approach and naturally ask, "Where's ?" Then act all surprised, confused, and disillusioned when the character turns out to be, no really, completely fictional.

A mildly delusional fantasy, I know. Maybe not just mildly. Whatever the case, in order to imbue the elements of the story with that kind of identifiable humanity, I want to have them polished as they're created. Which is completely overboard - a sculptor, for instance, roughs out the entire form from his stone at the same rate of completion. Which only makes sense, as then during the evolution of the piece all areas can be weighed relatively to one another and appropriate adaptations made as they may be required.

So why have I insisted on going to a polished state early on? Probably because I lack the real experience in the value of the rough draft. And, that I fear a loose thread left anywhere, and any stage of completion, could cause the whole thing to unravel and the work rendered null and void. And lastly, that the work would be somehow flimsy and insufficient without it, repelling readers as a piece of worthless writing. Which reader in this case would be me: I'm merciless in my dissection of the written word, often to the point of precluding my ability to enjoy the work for what it is. Same for most creative works, actually; I've probably spent too much time focused on the defining elements of quality expected in software development, focusing on that flawless analytical bent and carrying it with me into the more creative, less scientific endeavors.

I am finally brought to the origin of the title for this entry: I have decided one of the defining characteristics of writers is the ability to make complete exceptions for themselves. To be able to say to the world at large, "That's fine, but it doesn't apply to me." A certain bravado that tells the rest of the world to go suck it: either you can accept the work I've created for what it is, and understand the meaning I have chosen for it, or you're really just not worth the effort.

Throughout my life I've felt guilty for being the exception to many rules. I've enjoyed significant success and after felt the fruition of my labors was unwarranted, or unfair in my favor. That still doesn't fit well with me, and I have to find ways of justifying it to myself by what I do with it afterward - which is usually to enlarge my capacity and capability through refining my resources, unfortunately resulting in somewhat more success. There's a lot of guilt that ends up in my life - hopefully I can turn that into humility rather than loathing.

Here at the same time, I'm talking about an ability to indiscriminately give the world the literary finger. I don't desire dissociation or any kind of social disconnect from my fellow man. But I also have no reason to subscribe to their bias (which as I mentioned above, may in truth be entirely my own, simply projected outward), or be controlled by their prejudices for what makes a fine piece of literature. I must arrogantly throw to the wind the fact that so many people smarter than myself have gone before and written - and do it anyway, despite the formulas for perfection they may have ascribed to (if at all - again, I'm projecting a lot of my own prejudices out there).

My prior perspectives on the subject have always been from the consumer perspective. I've been able to transition between consumer and producer before, where it comes to a few other pursuits (most specifically software, as I've mentioned). So what if I end up with a few bugs in my writing? They can be worked out - it's more important to rough the entire shape with increasing refinement than to pretend I can perfectly predict the end state from the beginning. The writing should be a journey for me as well.

And if someone else has used this or that meme, or knows how to construct this phrase better, so what? Screw'em, this is my book.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Re-Opening Pandora's Box

In the Greek mythos, Pandora's box contained the darker sides of humanity and were unwittingly unleashed upon mankind, inducing incalculable suffering.

This is an interesting take on the drives and motivations of human nature, and may offer some glimpses into the Athenian search for virtue which so occupied the culture to have given rise to this and other tenets of early psychology. The investigation of this, however, is not what I'm writing about.

For me, I'm abusing the alliteration. This box represents for me all the ills and difficulties associated with medical malfunction, and the contemplation of one's demise.

Several years ago I was in phenomenal shape, and well appreciated the fact. I ran cross-country, walked or biked nearly everywhere I went within 10 miles, did hip-hop and break dancing, and even fairly acrobatic martial arts - all with excellent stamina.

Then, ever so slowly, that stamina began to decrease. I was exercising more, not less, and had made no appreciable changes in my diet or schedule. And yet - I found myself becoming weaker after exertion, and at times almost uncontrollably tired. Eventually chest pain began to set in, complete with radiance to the left arm, acute pinching sensations in the rib cage, and a nasty coincidence with slurred speech, pale complexion, and dilated pupils.

Really awful times, y'know?

This was in my late adolescent years, and so still at the behest of my Mother in all medical issues. The impression I have from the experience was that she was eager to see the matter done away with so as not to be inconvenienced. After a few visits to the family Dr. (a pediatrician - qualified generally, but a little over his head and a little too ready to listen to mi madre over his patient) I was finally granted a referral to someone who would perform a stress test.

Stationary bicycle test, lots of wires, and culminating with an arterial blood gas draw. However: I'll drop this guy under "quack." I was unable to speak due to the breathing hoses attached to my face, but at the first signs of strain he called the test done (when the intent is to be taken to a point of exhaustion), drew the blood and left the room. I made myself known to his assistant that I hadn't completed (once I could communicate in anything more than a vague gesture), but he also did nothing (though was a little surprised that I felt I was incomplete). Dr. Quack scanned the results of the lab work, and on the next week's follow up told me I was simply out of shape (having only scored into the 70th percentile on my exercise performance). The End. Additional complaints about chest and arm pain fell on deaf ears and that was the end - for him, and for my Mother.

The aforementioned family physician decided to call it some flavor of asthma and gave me a couple of inhalers - which were nice stimulants, but didn't provide any long term therapeutic benefit, and were discarded after a short number of months. My investigation continued, however, and I finally found an intersection of symptoms which came close to explaining my condition:

Pulmonary Hypertension.

Of course by this point I had already been swept under the rug, and the independent medical investigation of a teenager doesn't typically merit much credit by the professional community. Meanwhile, I became increasingly suspicious that this was actually the source of my woes, and looked more into its origins and prognosis.

At the age of 17 I had to come to terms with the fact that, were my investigation accurate, I would have at most 20 years left in a life I could expect to become more and more miserable as the disease progressively disabled me.

The requisite tests were not performed, I was still considered to be a melodramatic blob, and I had no effective and knowledgeable advocate as would be required to establish or rule out the possibility of the disorder. The following summer I moved from Seattle to Utah in order to pursue my independent technology consultancy (a way of getting an education on the cheap and funding my geek-toy habit), as well as renew some family ties. In doing the move, I left insurance behind.

Once in Utah I could only afford 1 more appointment - which, being a new start, left me trying to cram everything into the single visit. I got a chest X-Ray while I was at it, which was negative, and was told to try and encounter less stress (written off this time as acid reflux).

This first tale of despair is almost done.

2 years later I had a stable job, a supportive wife, and medical insurance. I decided to give it one last shot. This time I received a lung-function perfusion scan, a tread-mill test, lots of blood work, another stationary bike test, and an echocardiogram.

This revealed supernormal lung function (high capacity and excellent transmission), a normal heart (no right-side enlargement which would indicate advancing Pulmonary Hypertension), and the dreaded "maybe you're out of shape."

Was my research off? Was it all in my head? Or maybe it was just my lungs and some combination of asthma? Perhaps I had never been in that good of shape to begin with, but had thought I was - and was continually overexpecting my body to perform?

Family became too busy and I let the issue drop. Yes, all the symptoms were still present - but only when I took the time to exercise and rest in response to it. So instead I decided to no longer be an annoyance or burden based on something that might all be in my head, and I made the problem go away. I did this by structuring my life such that the discomfort was no longer manifest.

As a result, massive fatigue set in - but usually not pain. I became very nearly narcoleptic, and inside of 4 months gained ~40lbs - with no especial change in diet. But at that point let it lay, and ignored the rest.

It has been 5 more years, and in that time I have learned how to manage most of the fatigue (and the accompanying sleep disorder, which was diagnosed some time later at the urging of concerned colleagues - it having had more impact on work than home). I have continued to gain weight, and moved from a svelte (almost Elven) 145lbs to 220lbs - mostly not muscle gain. But the worst of it has stayed nice and quiet.

Until last week.

I finally had taken most of the week off from extra work in the evenings, had taken some occasional naps to help with the fatigue, and prepared for my regular weekend meditation.

One of the dominant themes of that meditation is to be able to rest effectively, so that whatever interrupted or ineffective rest I do manage is more productive. Usually there are some behavioral issues that have arisen during the previous week of stress and speed that make my brain frantic and unable to disengage from a whirlwind of concern.

This time my mind was at rest to begin with, so the self-hypnotic session didn't have much clearing out to do - but did point very clearly to an biological issue: a pinching pain in my chest I had been unaware of. Which I had made myself unaware of. My subconscious instructed me to turn that awareness back on.

Now, it's all back. I'm not as tired, and am able to manage it more effectively because of this awareness - I know when to take brief meditation, what the palpitations and pain will mean for my patterns of comfort and awareness, and can handle and respond to them. But I realize that much of my fatigue from the last several years has been as a result of burying all of this so as not to trouble anyone.

And now, more than ever, I'm finding the same intersection with Pulmonary Hypertension symptoms.

Am I nuts? A hypochondriac?

It's entirely possible. I've always considered myself some kind of exception to the rule, and not necessarily in good ways - a large portion of my adolescent development was spent defining my individuality in terms of how I was different, and a departure from the trend/norm/orthodox expectation; and I was willing to take that to extremes to make my point.

So much so, that once during 7th grade I had missed the announcement that some of the class periods that day were going to be shuffled around - and so when I showed up to my 2nd period class and found it inhabited by the 4th period students, it was a serious possibility in my mind that I had somehow A) blacked out and/or not experienced the intervening time, or B) encountered some kind of wrinkle or warp in the space-time fabric that resulted in my having failed to pass through the previous few hours. Yes, I was overboard.

Now I have to acknowledge the persistent part of me which firmly declares that I do indeed know what it would feel like to be normal - and that this ain't it. I still might be nuts. I'm not going to attempt a firm diagnosis without the assistance of a physician, but I have one on the line and am going to wrestle this to the ground one way or another. I've given up nearly every physical activity I found rewarding and allowed this silence to rule my life in destructive ways.

I'm going to get to the bottom of it one way or another - I am reopening the !$#@ box.

Rough draft - will be reviewing and editing later. - PLT 2006-03-02 16:27