Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tell Me a Story

When learning the craft of writing, which is really the craft of storytelling in the medium of the written word more so than mastery of the written word by itself, one begins to see the seams and joints in other works.  One begins to recognize bad writing where one originally thought a given piece of writing to be good.  It is frustrating because once the eyes are opened to bad writing, it seems to be everywhere.  The good news is that the really good writing generally stands up.

For example, when Steph and I are watching an episode of a favorite TV show, we will (both of us, now) catcall the plot developments before they happen, and predict the resolution before it arrives.  We are rarely off base by much, if at all.  This can happen for good writing or bad, of course, but when it's bad, it is a disappointment because we know it could have been done better.  I am not simply talking about creative tropes here.  David Eddings wrote nothing but tropes, and his writing was great.

The problem comes when a story is doing a bad job cutting through the useless gunk and getting to the business of telling us what happens to the protagonist and what he or she is going to do about it, and thus the story lacks drama.  We as an audience have to know what the protagonist wants to achieve, who stands in the way, and why it has to happen now.  Writers refer to these things as the Goal, the Nemesis, and the Ticking Clock.  A good story keeps raising the stakes until the protagonist realizes how he must transform to meet his goal and defeat his nemesis, all before the ticking clock runs out.  The action in the story related to those three things is known as Drama.  And so few stories dramatize well!  David Mamet correctly noted that any scene that has two characters talking about what a third character is doing is a crock of shit.  I blush at how much of my own past writing is essentially that.  If the characters are talking, exchanging information, then they aren't doing dramatic things.  People won't read or watch for information nearly as readily as they will read or watch good drama.

Think about a story like that in the film The Empire Strikes Back.  Luke's goal is to save his friends.  To do so he must defeat Vader.  And if he waits too long, his friends will (he believes) die on the torture rack in the Cloud City Security Tower.  Goal, nemesis, ticking clock.  Luke's moment of transformation comes when he lets go of the railing and falls into the shaft to the weather vane, rather than giving in to Vader's tempting offer to rule the galaxy father and son.  Luke had to make a decision that he was going to "do, or do not," as Yoda had taught him, since his "try" to defeat Vader had gone so terribly off the rails.  Luke decided he was going to believe in his ability to use the Force for good.  He rejected the quick, easy, seductive path, and instead survived to fight back another day. 

Tellingly, there isn't a moment in Empire in which we don't know damned good and well who the protagonist is and why he matters.  Luke is both the first and last person to do anything on-screen.  The villain is Luke's direct nemesis, Darth Vader, and Luke and Vader are both alike and opposite.  While Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, Artoo, and Threepio all have minor story arcs involving some modicum of choice, mostly they just react.  Luke's arc of choice encompasses the entire duration of the film, from his tentative efforts to retrieve Anakin's Lightsaber in the Wampa Cave, to his choice to go train under Yoda, to his choice to abandon his training prematurely, and finally to his transformation.  And throughout the movie, characters rarely talk about doing things -- they just act!  Very effective dramatization.  Empire is not the most fully-realized, conceptually brilliant, or consistent science fiction story ever, but as SF stories go, it is among the most dramatic in the genre, and is possibly the best story of them all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking Before Leaping

In recent weeks, I went through an unpleasant dispute with a long-time friend.  The dispute culminated last weekend with my friend erupting in anger toward me and writing a vicious, hate-filled email telling me he wanted nothing more to do with me.  I wanted so badly to reply in anger.  I wanted to show him "what for."  I had a response for every insult he hurled, every fact in my favor he was ignoring, and every juvenile behavioral affectation he was displaying.  And just as I was about to spew forth with the mighty fusillade of my reply...

I stopped, and was silent.

It took a long time and a great deal of life experience to reach the point at which I had the presence of mind to forestall an angry reply to that old friend.  In that instant, I saw myself so many times in the past as I lashed out, forced through, blasted all around me, and regretted it later.  I saw all the people who wanted to help me and were hurt by proximity to my reckless spite.  I saw all the people who were just trying to do their jobs, unable to cut me a break because I left them nowhere to go but over my ruin.  I saw all the people I hated, old enemies from grammar school, high school, and afterwards.  I saw the men (and women) who thwarted me in one way or another, for whom I swore I would never brake if I saw them crossing the street, and I remembered that after my histrionics, they got to walk away clean, justifiably believing that they were the better person. 

I still know their names.  Perham.  Frimmel.  Bauerlein.  Saager.  There are more, of course.  I don't necessarily forgive them for what they did to me, but in the moment of our parting, I was the one who was more out-of-line.  And as time went by, I learned a wider perspective.  Perhaps Perham had a bad home life about which I knew nothing.  Frimmel's aggression, in retrospect, was an obvious mask for his insecurity and low self-esteem.  Bauerlein and Saager had their own business/career interests as their prerogatives.  In each case, had I then the broadness of mind that I have now, I could have divorced myself from the situation and walked away in peace, leaving my "enemies" to their own concerns.

My long-time friend, the man who hates me now, has had his entire life turned upside down over the past year, and the frustration has to be wearing on his last nerve.  He is doing his damnedest to draw me into the fray, baiting me at every turn to open fire, while simultaneously and contradictorily telling me to go away.  And despite it all, I cannot hate this man.  Too clearly I see the source of his anguish.  Too clearly I recognize the same myopia in him that I possessed when faced with similar difficulties in my own life.  And far, far too clearly I see the chronic lack of self-esteem that has undermined my friend all his life.  To this day he is utterly terrified of the notion that somebody might get the better of him, in any context, under any circumstances.  I have seen him over and over again fleeing when his self-crafted illusion of control and superiority was threatened.  A tiny, fragmentary demon left over from junior high school torments him to this day.  Figuratively speaking, of course, as there are no such things as demons.

This man believes he stands now on the precipice of getting me to erupt at him, making his every vile insult a fulfilled prophecy.  He would be able to walk away with a complete and immutable victory, and for the rest of his life he could rationalize away any behavior, no matter how reprehensible, with the notion that at least he is a better man than Mike.

What he does not understand is that he is Mike.

He is the Mike-that-was.  The Mike that still is, and can easily be again, if I ever fail to catch myself leaping before I look, lashing out before I think.

As his true friend, I want him not to descend to those depths.  I cannot stop him; he has his free will and sufficient resources to force the issue.  But I refuse to help speed his way down.

I chose to stand and take his beating.  I replied telling him I did not hate him, and would not engage with him.  I told him to take a year or two to cool off, and if he had a change of perspective by then, to look me up.  I told him I would not seek him out. 

None of this makes me a "better man" than him.  To seek that distinction is juvenile anyway; a real man measures himself only against his own actions.  What I have done is deprive him of the clean, easy getaway that he sought, and now he will have to choose between evading his knowledge of how he behaved toward me, or facing up to it.  Unlike the adolescent wraith that haunts him, the new demon I have given him is much easier to defeat -- all he has to do is look at it, recognize it for what it is, and accept the truth.  Perhaps in banishing one of the two specters, he will find the inner strength to banish the other.

Monday, March 22, 2010

When I Write; When I Don't Write

To be successful as a writer, one must write.  This is the one unchanging truism that is repeated by every successful writer when asked what it took to "make it."  The answer is couched many different ways, but at the end of the day it sums up to: write.  Write more and more.  Write at every opportunity.  Through trial and error repeated ad infinitum, a writer polishes his or her craft.

It is easy for a writer to comment on a message board, comment on Facebook, or write a blog entry.  It is not so easy for a writer to write a novel or a screenplay or a non-fiction book.  The difference, of course, is one of scope: the deeper, more extensive projects require an order of magnitude more time. 

More precisely, and more critical to the issue of when a writer can write, the deeper projects require time available in uninterrupted spans.  It is simply impossible in a short time period to get warmed up, get the requisite info "loaded into RAM" mentally, apply the chops, and lay down text.  It is much the same when editing, where the real heavy lifting of writing is done and which most successful writers suggest should only be started once the first draft of the main body of a text is complete.

Paul Graham explains the timespan issue in his essay Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule, and though Graham is referring mainly to coding, his observations hold absolutely true for writing as well. 

Knowing this, I sometimes worry that I will never really become successful writing under my own ticket unless I am doing it full-time.  This also fulfills Portnoy's Principle that success in a creative or artistic endeavor usually requires a combination of adversity and absolute commitment.  Essentially, you don't win the campaign unless you're willing to cross the Rubicon.

As it stands, I am not in a position to quit my job.  On balance, my job is a good one, and I am afforded time throughout the day to do small amounts of writing, such as on my blog.  If I end up having to go back to commuting via bus, I will also have another hour or so in the morning and evening to write while mobile.  But the bottom line is that I am not writing full-time, so my major writing projects have lagged. 

The weekends, once a bonanza of available time, saw me diminishing in productivity as my sleep apnea worsened.  Then, we had Evey and doubled the child-monitoring workload at a time when Allie was still not old enough to play without direct supervision.  Then the economy tanked and our costs for child care and such skyrocketed, leaving us even after cutbacks in a position in which I have to do eBay work in order to make good.  As Graham explains, any interruption is likely to destroy an entire afternoon's work for a Maker.  These last few months, I have been interrupted a minimum of three different ways.  I didn't stand a chance.

There is reason to hope.  CPAP therapy is going well, so I am more awake and more primed for creativity for longer periods.  We are making family arrangements for child care that should start in a few months, and that will allow me to bail once again from eBay.  Finally, Steph has been taking the girls on outings, leaving me with precious tranquility.  We're not quite there yet, but I am confident that when the day comes that I can sit down at my computer, close the door, and not notice the passage of time until the hunger pangs come, that will be a day I make headway toward success.

Until then, I'll squeeze in a few paragraphs here or there where I can.  Fortunately, I have that luxury.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Some General Observations

The title of this post is taken from an old Cult of the Dead Cow textfile (content NSFW) that was just about the most entertaining slice-of-life I had ever read up to that point.  It's funny how some of the most out-of-the-way things can influence the way a person thinks and lives, if they arrive right at an impressionable time.  Most of what The Nightstalker observed, especially about "adult situations," was largely inapplicable to me as a socially inept 17-year-old nerd, but one item stood out:
One of the benefits of living in this backwater town is that both the supermarket and the beer 'n' wine store stash their empty milk crates outside where they are easy to get to. Needless to say, I do not lack for bookshelves and storage modules these days.
I don't remember ever consciously taking this as a lesson, but I observe that I currently possess two milk crates that have stayed with me through close to two decades of residential moves, and I could not confidently answer for the origin of either crate if I were asked.  It is possible I came by them legitimately, but I doubt it.  If I had to hazard a guess, I would suspect that I imitated The Nightstalker in a misguided attempt at appearing "cool" or "hardcore," and stole them from some place or another, sometime back in that 1991-1993 time period that was the moral nadir of my life.  I would not countenance such pilferage today, because it conflicts rather violently with my belief that an individual's right to property, like the rights to life and liberty, should be inviolable.  Meanwhile, the crates are real, and there they sit.  I committed a wrong, and there are no excuses.  Amends for my actions are due and payable.  I hope I may yet figure out to whom.

Twice in recent days, I have had "engineering disputes" with friends that fell distinctly to the unpleasant side of even.  Neither of them was related, nor were their subject matter, but each left me with a sour aftertaste.  In each case, there was behavior by the other party that I was not comfortable letting slide.  Instead, I called the other party to account, and the dust-ups worsened.  I don't think I was necessarily wrong to hold my ground.  One of the lessons I have learned the hard way in life is that a person has to hold to principles, even if the consequences are unpleasant.  Failure to do so just sets things up to get worse later.  Still, principles might serve me well, but you sure can't have fun hanging out with them.

I have repurposed this blog away from political issues, so I will not dissert on the health care bill and its impending "passage."  I think various parties linked in my blogroll are saying what needs to be said.  It will not be enough.

Recent research for one of my publications brought me to learn of a practice called "salami slicing," a consequence of the emergence of the concept of the Least Publishable Unit.  Though my writing has been commercial, rather than scholarly, I immediately grokked the concept and its associated practice.  An ebook scheme I implemented to distribute content under one of my pen names worked passably well at first, but in the end I found that the market prefers, at least in literary publishing, cohesive and wholly-contained content.  The arrival of ebooks on the publishing scene, especially with the attractive array of gadgetry available for their portable consumption (from iPad to Kindle to smartphones) suggests a vast emergence of Least Publishable Units as the mainstay of digital inventory, but my skepticism is growing.  I tend to believe digital publishing is diverging such that anything not substantial enough to publish as a "thick" standalone media module (novel, feature film, etc) is likely to show up as web content monetized through advertising.  I see the anthology as a potential casualty of all this, and there are positive and negative implications for a writer like me who already creates short stories and flash fiction.

Stephanie and I face upcoming pay cuts as state employees, along with enforced furloughs that may or may not occur on fortuitous dates.  We continue to struggle to solve "the child care cost situation," a financial bind that has defined our year 2010 so far and will continue to press upon us for at least another month or two before potential solutions can be put into play.  Down the road, there are benefits we are likely to enjoy from having had two daughters in a period of less than two years, but the costs of having done so are quite front-loaded.  If I were in my late twenties now, I think Steph and I would have taken steps to slow down the growth of the family Bahr.  As it is, though, I am about to be 36.  I'm starting to be a grumpy old man like the review narrator at RedLetterMedia.  Evey is going to graduate high school when I am 54 years old.  What good is having an empty nest if you're too old and decrepit to do anything about it?  Steph and I are not making (or at least publically discussing) any decisions for sure, but the possibility does exist that the family is now complete, and/or that there will only be perhaps one more addition to it before I consider certain medical options.  The realities of time and money are like nature: to be commanded, they must first be obeyed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Tao of Time Off

In government positions such as mine, there is no such thing as "severance pay."  As a political appointee, I serve at the pleasure of the governor.  I can thus be summarily dismissed without warning.  In order to attract some degree of competent talent for positions such as mine without having to offer severance pay, the state instead offers a hugely competitive vacation ("annual leave") accrual schedule, 173.6 hours per year, and allows the carryover of 320 hours per year.  That's eight weeks of pay, more than enough to compare apples-to-apples with a typical severance package for comparable positions in the private sector.

Of course, most employees aren't ascetic enough to go two full years taking a total of only three days' vacation to stockpile 320 hours, so it usually takes around four years for most employees to reach that threshold.  The private-sector standard is around two weeks of vacation per year, so that is what I've been taking.  And, right on schedule, heading into my fourth year next week I will have about 240 hours in the tank.  Not bad considering I have taken two paternity leaves, a week off every Christmas, and assorted other days off for personal purposes.  If I were laid off today, I would get six weeks' pay in vacation payout.  My boss has been with the state five years and is "full" -- he is taking off for his kids' "spring break" simply because he can.  He enjoys 21.6 days off per year and still maintains a full payoff cushion.

Sick time does not count and is recorded separately: people at my pay grade get 80 sick hours per year, 40 of which can be used for self or a family member.  This is convenient because my daughters frequently succumb to whatever plague is festering in the petri dish of day care at any given moment.  The private-sector norm has increasingly been to combine sick and vacation days into "personal days," and this makes sense for various reasons.  If a state employee quits or is terminated, they do not get paid out for sick balances unless they have stockpiled a high number of hours, and at each threshold the percentage of the payout is a bit higher (but never exceeds 50%).  And none of this counts retirement matching funds or any of that.  This policy helps to discourage the issue of the "iron worker" who never takes a sick day but comes in and works through every ailment, spreading germs and sending co-workers home with illnesses while hacking up a crescendo to distract whichever hardy souls avoid catching sick.  By far the best value of a state sick day is to take it when you or your family member is actually sick.  Any policy that rewards a person for using a tool for its intended purpose is fundamentally sound.

Steph and I have long wanted to compete in The Amazing Race or Survivor or something along those lines, so it would be great if we ever built up enough spare leave time to go on such an adventure.  In the private sector, it would be very difficult to do so at the lower vacation accrual rate.  It would force us to take a hit against our severance "cushions," but it would be worth it for the experience.  Like a swine beholding pearls, I didn't really have the awareness level to appreciate some of the adventures and experiences I have had in life, mainly because I was either chronically short of money or in poor health, or both.  Even if I took two weeks off to do nothing but camp in the wilderness, I think it would be something I can appreciate much more these days than I could before.   But I can't do it yet -- not if I want to keep building up that safety net.  I like that it's my choice one way or the other, though.

I guess all I have to do is have one of my stories optioned for a screenplay and pocket six figures, then take whatever time off I want.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Conquering Obstructive Sleep Apnea

I just had the best night of sleep I have ever had.  At least for as long as I can remember, so basically since childhood.  For the first time in my adult life, I woke up feeling absolutely fantastic, brimming over with energy and relishing the briskness of the morning.

The reason for this breakthrough is that after tangling with the medical bureaucracy on and off since 2007, I finally secured last Thursday a specialized prescription for a heated, humidified CPAP with c-flex and data recording.  I managed to lay hands on the machine Friday, and used it half of Friday night (I was getting over a sinus infection) and then for the entire night last night.

I know that's a lot of jargon to most people, so I'll explain.  Dealing with this situation, I was frequently starved for good information, so now that I have secured it, I want to spread it around and spare others the same frustration.

I have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea.  What this means is that I stop breathing while I am asleep, which forces me to wake up in a gasping, sweating panic.  I weigh 265 pounds; at 72 inches of height, I am supposed to be in the 200-205 range.  The buildup of fat in my body added to the soft tissue in an already genetically narrow airway in the back of my throat.  When I fall asleep and my muscles competely relax, the soft tissue back there occludes the airway.  When sleeping supine (on my back), the occlusion is total, and I wake up after a few seconds, struggling to breathe.  I can sleep on my sides or stomach and the occlusion is only partial.  The result is loud, earth-rending snoring, but I can at least breathe somewhat.  Even then, I receive too little airflow, resulting in hypoxia.  The effect of the hypoxia is that I wake up every day feeling like I am severely hung over, even though I probably drink alcohol only twice or three times a year.

An even more serious effect of the apnea is that constantly waking due to breathing stoppages makes it almost impossible to achieve REM sleep.  A lack of REM sleep gradually erodes mental acuity, memory retention, ability to focus, and general alertness/awareness.  REM sleep is also the phase of sleep during which the body burns the most calories.  According to the sleep studies I had to undergo, I have been getting less than 30 minutes of REM sleep per night, and none at all during some nights, for the past 20 years.  I will touch upon the consequences of this later.

There are two major treatment paths for obstructive sleep apnea, and both are meant to return the sufferer to productive sleep so that the sufferer can return to an ideal body weight and (optimally) have no excess soft tissue occluding the airway.  The two paths are surgery and CPAP.

Surgery to simply cut away some of the soft tissue in my airway would have been a serious step but would have been guaranteed to work, at least in the short term.  The problem was that I would not have lost any other weight, and so it was likely I would simply build up more soft tissue and be back to square one within a few years.  The surgery is most effective on people who are already at their ideal body weight, because they are likely to maintain healthy bodies with clear airways and minimal soft tissue.

CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is a nonsurgical, noninvasive therapy for apnea that has a proven track record of success -- when the patient can tolerate the therapy.  A CPAP machine generates a stream of air that is forced into the patient's airway via a facemask or nose mask.  The continuous pressure maintains airflow through the patient's throat, preventing the soft tissue from closing up the channel.  If the patient is able to breathe and sleep normally, eventually his or her health improves and weight loss follows, reducing the soft tissue in the airway.  Even if weight loss is slow or a patient has a genetically narrow airway like I do, a patient can safely use CPAP for basically any amount of time.  Unfortunately, many patients cannot tolerate the CPAP, as was the case for me at first.  If I had known then what I know now, things might have gone much better.

I wasted literally years seeking treatment for "not being able to sleep," and followed many red herrings and found many dead ends, on the advice of doctors no less.  First it was stress -- but my stressors went away and the problem persisted.  Then it was caffeine intake -- but I abstained from caffeine and the problem persisted.  Then it was suspected somnambulance -- nope.  At last one doc had the prescience to think to treat the snoring problem rather than the sleep problem, and that set us on the right path... eventually.  Anti-snoring masks and straps did not help, and in fact made things much, much worse.  (Stopping breathing AND having my mouth held shut?  Where do I sign up!)  Dieting, even aided by phentermine and such, brought short-term gains, but I could never keep the weight off because I could never maintain the necessary activity level.  Finally, in late 2008, I was referred to a sleep study.

The sleep study was possibly the most frustrating experience to that point.  I was ready to give up and consider more radical solutions -- stomach lap-banding and what have you -- to force drastic weight loss and hopefully make some headway against the snoring.  At my first sleep study, I did not fall asleep at all.  The monitoring apparatus was just that disturbing and uncomfortable.  I forced myself to do it again, and they confirmed for the first time that there were breathing stoppages -- but that was it.  They tested no further.  The doctor prescribed CPAP, and my insurance rented me a machine.

The next few nights, I tried to use the CPAP therapy and found it absolutely intolerable.  The air blasted into my sinuses, drying out my eyes and ears.  I gasped to talk and couldn't get comfortable in the mask.  Worst of all, the machine they gave me had no "ramp" and a poorly implemented auto-adjust, a feature since removed from most high-end CPAP machines, as I would discover.  For all that discomfort, I never made it through a complete night of therapy.

At that point, I gave up.  I returned the CPAP and resolved to find some other solution, possibly even the surgery and I'd just take my chances on a relapse.  Life happened, and I became overwhelmed by other concerns.  (And they were worse than they otherwise would have been, thanks to my constant physical and mental fatigue.)  During an astoundingly busy 2009, I decided I was going to find some way to tolerate that CPAP, whatever it took.

So I did my internet research.  I learned that there were heated, humidified CPAP machines out there that were much easier to tolerate, and that all masks were interoperable so I could shop around until I found one that was comfortable.  I also learned that some CPAP machines "ramp" to make it easier to fall asleep -- they start at a lower pressure and gradually increase it as you drift off.  I even learned of a "c-flex" feature where the CPAP drops the pressure when you breathe out and resumes the pressure when you breathe in.  That was huge!  One of the worst parts of my original CPAP experience was how difficult it was to breathe out (expire).  Because the pressure was so high, I wound up instinctively breathing out through my mouth instead, and as soon as you open your mouth, the CPAP seal is broken and your sinuses are flooded with pressured air, a painful and unpleasant experience.

I figured I could just ask for one of the better CPAPs, so I called the rental company.  No dice, they said -- my prescription had expired.  Oh well.  Could I just buy one, then?  On the internet I saw many vendors who had them for sale outright.  Nope.  It turns out a CPAP is a Class II Medical Device.  Even the internet vendors needed to see an Rx.  So I went to ask my doctor for one, and found out he had left the state and was practicing elsewhere.  Arrrrrgh!

The rest of the story is simple, except that it took six months instead of six minutes because of that stupid prescription status.  I got a new doctor and had another sleep study.  At the sleep center, they fitted the better CPAP right then and there, and I felt like a million bucks when I woke up after less than four hours of therapy.  A solution was within my grasp!  After trying and failing to arrange another rental scenario, I decided to just buy a CPAP, and got my new doctor to write out a prescription so beautiful it makes my eyes tear up just to read it: "CPAP 8cm w/heated humidifier, c-flex, DR, fit mask for comfort."

Here is what that script meant.  The eight centimeters was the basic pressure setting.  Due to the prescription nature of the machine, the vendor sets the pressure internally in advance.  The heated humidifier was a must, sparing my sinuses from the beating they took from the "cold/dry" CPAP I had used before.  C-flex was the nice feature that drops pressure on expiration.  DR is for data recording -- the CPAP monitors its own pressure status and logs it, so I won't have to do a sleep study again.  I can just bring in the memory card to my doctor.  Finally, "fit mask for comfort" meant I could have any mask I wanted.  I wasn't taking any chances on a rental.  I plunked down $700 for a CPAP and mask at a local medical supplies retailer.  I'll try to get insurance reimbursed later -- for now, I wanted to get going.  Think about how adamant you get when you're weary and want to sleep and someone is keeping you up for some inane reason.  Now multiply that by 20 years and you'll have some notion of how accommodating of delays I was feeling.

I had been recovering from ear/sinus infections, so I knew my sinuses would have a hard time acclimating, and thus I only used the CPAP for part of the night Friday and Saturday -- and I still felt great in the mornings.  But last night, I was free and clear to sleep the duration with the therapy in place.  I lay down on my back, neck straight and even on the pillow, mask in place, pressure set, with six hours of quiet approaching... and it was bliss.  I never moved.  I woke up at 5:45, which is apparently a time in the morning now as well as in the afternoon (nobody informed me) and had time to play with Evey, check some computer tasks, and stretch out a bit before hitting the shower and heading in to work... almost half an hour earlier than usual.

It is far too soon to know how successful this therapy will be or what my long-term outlook is, but I have to think my focus, energy level, and therefore my productivity is about to go through the roof.  And that's what brings me to regret all the wasted time and effort for 20 years that this damned condition has cost me.

First, my severe weight gain.  Like I said, I have felt fatigued every day, similar to what you might feel if you had serious jet lag.  Toward the end of the day, my body finally finds some chemical balance, and this is probably why I have been productive as a night owl for some years now.  Now ask yourself how much exercise you would get if you felt like that all the time.  It becomes clear why I have continued to gain weight, amplifying the underlying problem in a vicious cycle.  I might have been healthy and happy years ago if I could have bought a fully-loaded CPAP like the one I have now right off the shelf.

The mental fatigue is by far the more troubling aspect, and I can only begin to guess at what sort of long-term damage I have done to my brain from 20+ years of hypoxia.  When I was a child, I was considered a prodigy and was expected to have a huge future at the cutting edge.  By the time I was 17, I had my nomination to West Point in hand and was merely waiting for the great adventure to begin.  Even when my eyesight kept me out of there at 18, I was accepted in the blink of an eye by the ASU Honors College, and I figured I would just have to charge through the ASU engineering program on my way to my ultimate destiny.  But by the time I was 20, I had failed out of the Honors College and was soon to drop out of community college as well.  Somehow, I had gained a bunch of weight and gotten scatterheaded, unmotivated, and lazy.  Now, I don't doubt that some of that was authentic indecision/angst/sloth, but those factors alone cannot explain how I fell off the rails so abruptly.  Worse yet, I struggled to move forward in classes at which I had once excelled, such as mathematics and the hard sciences.  I just couldn't focus, and I had never had to develop much in the way of academic discipline, so I had no work ethic to fall back on.

I have since learned that this is not an uncommon story for apnea sufferers.  Indeed, I had to have a work ethic beaten into me by life experiences, and once I had the study discipline as a fallback position, I was able to finish law school and pass the bar exam.  I once hated math and science out of regret at my failure to cut the mustard at those disciplines, and now I am rediscovering my love of those things -- my writing is heavily focused in the science fiction genre, and even my whiteboard at work currently features a gallery of fractals.  But the worst thing is that I hated myself, thinking I was just a lazy person, never realizing there was a medical problem underneath it all.  Now that I know the truth, I think the sky is the limit.  I think I will be able to make up huge chunks of lost ground in a very short time.  I just wish so much had not gone to waste in the meanwhile.

In fact, writing this post has me thinking that there might be some meaningful writing to be done on the topic of obstructive sleep apnea itself, and that I might be a good candidate to be doing it.  I will consider this in the days and weeks ahead.

If anyone has any questions whatsoever about apnea, CPAP, or whatever, the comments thread is open and I will try to give helpful answers.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Shift In Focus

Last week, I posted regarding the apparent functional failure of this blog.  As there have been no comments or feedback at all, I must assume that my Xanatos Gambit has succeeded.  My gambit was born from the realization that a lack of participation would prove either postulate from my previous post: that I am failing to use this blog in a productive manner and thus a change is warranted, or that I am failing to make this blog interesting in the slightest and thus a change is warranted.  Either way, a change is warranted.  (A flurry of comments indicating that things were Fine The Way They Were was the outcome that would have defeated my Xanatos Gambit.)

For reasons too varied to concisely address here, I think the fundamental problem is that my political and philosophical posts have no audience here.  There are others writing the same kinds of material more regularly and in greater depth -- why not just read their blogs?  I can't think of a reason why not.

Meanwhile, I have my own creative projects, from writing to video to music to literary analysis.  These endeavors are truly mine, and I can think of no more appropriate outlet for such creative content than my very own House of Exuberance.

This blog will also serve as the repository of my various milestone markers and memorials, and anything I would ordinarily locate on Facebook but that deserves to be featured in a medium with more longevity.  My daily personal minutiae will be confined to Facebook, and will strut and fret its hour upon that stage, and then be heard no more.