CHD Awareness Week

Almost 14 years ago my son was born with a congenital heart defect. It was the most emotionally wrenching time of my life. Before that, I had been relatively unscathed by shocking deaths. Sure, some of my grandparents had died, I had a few friends who passed away, and I’d lost my best friend, a Doberman Pinscher named Moses who was the wisest canine I’ve ever known . . . .

None of it prepared me for the all-encompassing silence that laid waste to the hospital room when my son was born.

There were no tears. There were no angry baby screams. I don’t know if you can fully understand how disturbing that silence is until you’ve lived through it. A couple of years ago, the fine folks at Matter Press published my piece of flash non-fiction on his birth. You can read it here.

While it’s a good story with an ultimately happy ending and one I’m proud to have written, it is only a taste of what we went through. There was a surgery. There was a hospital stay. There were check-ups . . . there was so much . . . .

Here’s a taste from a few years ago:

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It’s a stress test. It’s not his last.

It’s the same thing that mothers, fathers, sons, daughter, brothers, and sisters all over the world go through all of the time. Hell, someone is probably going through some aspect of living with a congenital heart defect right now. What’s worse is that there are babies-more than I’d like to think about-who don’t make it through birth or surgery. Or, they make it through both but then, when they’re older, their hearts just stop.

It happens.

I write this post not for me or even for my wife and son. I write it for all the mothers and fathers who lose their children because of congenital heart defects. I write it for the children who are gone.

On the plus side, it seems like everyday there is a new development in ways to care for, monitor, and even cure congenital heart defects. For more information, check here.

Look, I know there is a lot to be aware of these days. There’s a lot of shit in the world, always has been. But I’d appreciate it if you took a few moments of your time to look into congenital heart defects, become aware of it as a very real problem, and maybe, just maybe, do something to help out people going through the nightmare of dealing with it . . . even if it’s just bringing them some dinner one night. That helps out way more than you might think.

(Don’t) kill your darlings (always)

The phrase “Kill your darlings” is thrown around in writing circles quite often. It is attributed to probably every single well-respected and not-so-well-respected writer throughout history. Perhaps this is because all of them have used it, or a variation of it, such as “kill your babies,” “murder your darlings,” etc, etc, etc.

Where it came from is unimportant, though if you want to know, this article explains it clearly. What is important to note is what the phrase means. According to the man who supposedly uttered it first, Arthur Quiller-Couch, it is a “practical rule” for writing that goes a little something like this: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

So, if you are a writer and you fashion what you believe is a particularly shiny sentence, phrase, or word but you only know it’s good because it is particularly shiny . . . chances are that sentence, phrase, or word does not need to be there. If it does not need to be there then it should not be. You should kill it. This is 100% correct 100% of the time. It is one of those rare elements in any creative endeavor that is more of a rule than a principle. At times, writing is as much a science as it is an art, folks.

But, because mankind is a creature of extremes, something has happened to that phrase. It has come to permeate conversations about good writing. It has led to things as egregious as English teachers perpetuated the lie that Charles Dickens was paid by the word. They say he used unnecessary words. He didn’t. The way he weaves his words is meticulous and serves a pointed purpose. For the record, his work was serialized and he was paid by the part . . . not by the word.

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Me, when someone says Dickens was paid by the word.

Anyway.

Writers, novice and experienced alike, use “kill your darlings” to destroy parts of stories or even whole stories these days. At times, rightly so. But we must use caution with anything we call a ‘rule’ in the arts. For there are times when your darlings are necessary. Dickens knew this. So does every writer out there today struggling to get a story published or a book picked up. There are times when you do know better than every editor. There are times when you do need your darling.

Perhaps these times are rare. But I assure you, they occur . . . .

This is why I have this story about a unicorn I’ve sent to more publishers than I can count. I’m on to something with it. I know it. My instincts tell me as much. And every rejection sends me back to the editing table and every edit gets my story one step closer to publication and the world’s eyes. It will happen.

If I followed the “kill your darlings” rule the way many writers these days do, it would not.

And trust me, that would be a shame.

Former is now available!

It’s been kind of grim around here lately. I know. And for that, I apologize. Hopefully, the kind people of the web will cut me some slack. After all, it’s been a rough few weeks at the Castle on the Corner (that’s what I call my small 1 1/2 story house in Olde Towne Bellevue, NE).

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You can read about the grim happenings here and here and here.

Anyway.

Things are looking up! My newest novel, Formeris now available to purchase!! Happy news! You can go ahead and get the e-book version today if you want. Hell, you can purchase it right now! Right here! I think you should. I mean, after all, rumor has it Kirkus calls this dystopian sci-fi novel, “Extraordinary and with a foreboding atmosphere that’s grim but never dreary.”

If you’re still into the old-timey way to read books, that’s cool. You’re just going to have to wait a few weeks. No big deal. Longing makes the heart grow fonder, right? I’ll keep you posted though. I mean, after all, I wouldn’t want you to miss a book Forward Reviews says “is haunting and eerie, and somehow, finally, filled with hope. Former is certainly an intriguing and engaging read. It would find an approving home with those who enjoy a creative, thrilling, and disturbing read—one that lingers long after they have turned the last page.”

At Dread Central someone thinks Former isn’t just a good book, but a good book with a message: “If you like a side serving of social commentary along with your zombie apocalypse tales, then you’ll want to check out A.E. Stueve’s Former, an insightful look at zombie culture and what it means to be human . . . .”

So get on that!

I am below, thanking you ahead of time for your purchase.

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Fear

On MLK Day this year, I can’t help but think of a different holiday . . . .

A few years ago during the Halloween season my children and I were driving somewhere. It was getting late and we were talking about scary stories. One thing led to another and my daughter asked me, “What are you most afraid of, Dad?”

Without a beat I replied, “Losing you two.”

When they asked what I meant, I told them the truth. The thing I fear most is that one of them will die before me. I try not to hide the world’s heaviness from them . . . . I may be honest to a fault.

This fear bitch-slapped me in the face the night my son was born. He had a congenital heart defect that made it difficult for him to breathe. He was born dead. Through a mix of modern medicine and miracles, he was brought back from the brink. I wrote my only published creative non-fiction work about it. You can read it here. Looking back now though I can see there was a strangeness to that original fear. It was a fear of losing the pleasant unknown. I wanted a child. I wanted to know what it would be like to raise a child. During those first few days of my son’s life, I was afraid I would miss out on all of it. I was afraid of never knowing what it would be like to get to know him.

In other words, I didn’t exactly know what I was afraid of. It was a fear of something abstract, of loss. I had never experienced having a child. I had no idea what the highs and lows of life with that boy would be like. There was nothing concrete to fear except the fear of losing.

Recently, my wife has battled a serious illness. I wrote about it two weeks ago. A new fear has stricken me as I’ve driven from our house to care for our children, to the hospital to sit, helpless, as my wife struggles through the pain and fear all her own. For me, it is the fear of losing her and it is more serious than the fear of losing my son was on those first few days.

Back then, I didn’t know what I would be missing. I didn’t know his smile, his sardonic wit, or his mad genius. I didn’t know him. Hell, he wasn’t him back then. He was just a little ball of messed up flesh and organs the doctors had to put right. Losing him would have been awful. It would have been the most traumatic thing I’d ever experienced. But if it had happened, I would never have known what it was I was losing.

There is a certain bitter grace to that.

Now though, knowing my wife is in harm’s way, knowing that the possibility of death looms . . . .

To never see her smile again or hear her voice or feel her presence even when she’s not there . . . .

That is a fear I clearly can’t keep bottled up because I’m releasing it here on the internet for all to see . . . .

She’s home now . . . for the second time. After two hospital stays the doctors are pretty sure she’s going to get better. So I’m happy about that. We all are. The fear isn’t controlling me or causing me to change the way I live my life . . . . That said, it’s there . . . and–to some degree–it always will be.

Thank God it’s MLK Day and that is something worth celebrating. Lord knows I need it right now.

Ziggy

My dad has this strange superpower that allows him to control the songs on the car radio while he drives. No matter where we’re going, what station we’re listening to, or how long we’ve been in the car–if he’s driving–the song on the radio is good. It’s uncanny. Sure, this is his favorite song, but David Bowie‘s amazing tunes pop up more often than not as well.

I don’t know if Bowie’s work is considered “classic rock” in the same way that Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple‘s is. He might be a little too cerebral and strange to be easily classified. I do know the classic rock DJs play his music alongside Led Zeppelin’s and Deep Purple’s and because of my dad’s affinity for the classic rock stations where said DJs work, I grew up with Bowie’s music in my ears.

I can still remember my dad pointing out to me the fact that “Ice, Ice Baby” totally ripped “Under Pressure” when I was a boy. He was genuinely upset about it. I can’t tell you why for sure, but I think it had more to do with the fact that Vanilla Ice denied it more than the fact that he did it. Furthermore, one of my favorite episodes of The Venture Bros.  is “Ghosts of Sargasso” in which the creators pay tribute to Bowie’s first big hit: “Space Oddity.

The Venture Bros‘s creators also loves Bowie. So I’m in good company.

My affinity for Bowie doesn’t stop there though! I love the movie Labyrinth. Love it, particularly Bowie’s disturbing turn as Jareth, the Goblin King.

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Creepy, right?

And is there a single person in the world who isn’t simultaneously jealous of and somewhat attracted to Ziggy Stardust?

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No.

Also, has any rock/pop star in the history of the world ever paid tribute to Christmas quite like Bowie did with Bing Crosby?

No.

There’s even an amazing parody!

Did you know he predicted the future with Trent Reznor too?

Seriously, who isn’t afraid of Americans these days?

Anyway.

You know what I like about Bowie?

Basically everything.

He is a hero to all of us weird, cerebral artist types and I wish he would’ve given us a few more songs before he went off to see if there was life on Mars. At least he left us with something moving and disturbing. In fact, it’s almost as if he knew he would be leaving this plain of existence. Sadly . . . he probably did.

 

 

 

We’re all miracles

I’ve been on the periphery of some near tragedies recently. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a modern-day Job or anything. No one I love has died recently. No buildings have fallen on my children. No one is testing my faith . . . I don’t think . . . .

Anyway.

It hasn’t been fun though. First, in November, my father had to get a kidney removed because it had

(wait for it)

cancer.

That was an intense couple of weeks, let me tell you. He lives in Hannibal, MO–about a five-hour car trip from Omaha, NE (my home). I took 10 days off work and headed down there to help. I ended up trucking my mom back and forth from their home in Hannibal to the hospital in St. Louis several times. It was rough, doing all that driving, not sleeping well, living in a hospital for a few days. But you know who had it worse than me? My dad. So I’m not complaining. I wrote about it more extensively here.

He’s home now and seems to be doing fine. Tragedy averted . . . so far. He’s getting a checkup at the end of February. We’ll re-evaluate our situation then.

But wait! There’s more!

Last Wednesday night at about 7:30pm, December 30, 2015–for those keeping track of dates–I rushed my wife to the Nebraska Medical Center ER. She had serious pains in her gut. Serious. To illustrate, I’ve seen her give birth twice and I’m certain she was in more pain that night than during both of those births. She’s 35 years old and this was her first trip to the ER–she is a particularly healthy, careful, and tough woman. Me? I’ve gone to the ER several times. I’ve broken some bones, had a couple concussions, and once got a sliver in my chest that was so big they needed special equipment to remove it.

Anyway.

The doctors discovered that because of some genetic fluke or something, some of my wife’s guts had folded over on themselves. To help her, the doctors ended up rushing her to the OR and doing this operation called a Cecal volvulus Procedure-Right hemicolectomy with ileac anastomosis. It sounds pretty serious, right?

That’s because it is. She’s been in the hospital now since the 30th and they’re not seriously talking about release dates yet. She’s walking through a particularly sketchy patch of woods right now and she has to do it alone. I can only stand on, dumbfounded, eyes wide like a deer who hasn’t yet realized he’s been plastered all over I-80.

Thankfully, the doctors and nurses at the Nebraska Medical Center are brilliant, kind, and damn good at what they do. I’m not even remotely worried about her care. What has been amazing though, profound even, is this non-medical outpouring of kindness for my wife, my kids, and me. It has come in the form of well-wishes from friends on social media. It has come in the form of concerned phone calls from parents and other family members and friends, offers for help with babysitting, visits to my house, and food, lots and lots of food (my personal favorite). Those who love us have seen that we are in a bad way and have come to our aid again and again in any way they can. This is great and though I want to repay all of this kindness someday, I sincerely hope I never have to. For, if I have to, that means my friends and/or family members are going through something like this. And it sucks. And I don’t want it for them.

One of my favorite superhero comic books is Watchmen. One of my favorite characters from that book is Dr. Manhattan–a man who becomes God. At one point in the story he decides every human being is a miracle. I’ve had trouble with this for years because I see several people on a regular basis that I have trouble believing are miracles . . . .

Over these last few days though I’ve seen that Dr. Manhattan is right. We are all miracles–every last one of us. The staff at the Nebraska Medical Center, my friends, my family, and most of all, my wife, have proven it.

“In each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive, meeting, siring this precise son; that exact daughter . . . until your mother loves a man . . . and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you . . . it’s like turning air to gold . . . thermodynamic miracle . . . . Come, dry your eyes for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg, that clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.”

–Dr. Manhattan (Alan Moore

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Dead Days

Legend has it, December 26th through December 30th belong to the dead. You see, the living offer these days no significance and consider them more of a holding period until the year ends. Some even call it the Devil’s Week. This is the other time of year when the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls leave their cells in the ground or . . . deeper . . . and explore the world. I’m sure you’ve heard of the far more popular time of the year for celebration of creatures of the night. Everyone knows about Halloween and the Day of the Dead a couple of days after it.

The Dead Days are quieter than those days, but no less powerful because of their relative silence. In fact, this week is stronger than Halloween and the Day of the Dead because this week is not a celebration. It is, in fact, a week that belongs to the dead (you may notice, if you move your eyes up a few lines, I actually begin this post by saying that). This time of year, we living folks don’t go out of our way to dress up like monsters or remember those who have passed. All we do, really, is sit and wait for the new year while all around us, unbeknownst to most of us, the monsters play. Sometimes, if you tune your body right, you can feel them. I’ve felt them, all around me at night, standing on a my back porch as snow crunches under my feet. A full moon hangs heavy in the cold air. The monsters are there, lurking, listening, hoping for a new victim . . . . Make no mistake.

They won’t catch me unawares. I know the sounds they make. I feel their eerie presence because I know that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On Christmas Day we celebrate giving and faith and kindness and all of that great stuff. So following that, for a week, the monsters come out. It’s equal because the concepts of giving, peace, love, joy, etc. are always going to be more powerful than their opposite counterparts: taking, war, hate, anger, etc. The dark side of the coin needs five days to catch up to the one day of Christmas.

How did this happen? Well, I’m not rightly sure. I do know it has something to do with the fact that Christmas and New Year’s Eve have no business being a week apart. Maybe the devil and all his cronies sneak in and take this week for their own every year when no one is looking. After all, no one is looking . . . every year. Maybe God gave it to them. Maybe it’s just one of those things we have to deal with on this swirling space mud ball we call Earth.

I know today is the 28th, which means there have already been over two Dead Days and we’re a little past the half-way point now. Be careful out there, folks, especially at night . . . .

And remember, have a Happy New Year . . . if you make it!

. . . maybe I’m just working on a new story . . .