Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years ago today my father passed away. I was able to fly home from college to be by his side, but he was so far gone he never recognized me. Except maybe for one brief moment when he was lucid enough to say my name before returning to whatever half-world he was living in by then.

I grew up knowing my father could die. Fearing he’d die more than once. I was too young fortunately to actually remember the three months in the hospital when his second transplant was such a spectacular failure that it not only cost him the kidney he’d just received but a quarter of a lung, too. But I was there for the years of dialysis and the deteriorating bones that meant multiple spinal fusions and long-term pain.

And I was there at the very end when he was gone but his body remained fighting on even though it was over. (I was also there when his body finally gave out but that damned ventilator kept right on going and the nurse didn’t rush in to turn it off because she was trying to give us time to say goodbye…)

I think about that when I think about the coming months and all those people who will die alone because it’s not safe for their family to be there or because the medical staff are going to be so overwhelmed they’ll be rushing from one dying patient to another without a second to spare to call in family.

And I have to say that for me being there when someone you love dies is not an experience I want to repeat. I was also there when my grandfather died and neither my dad nor my grandpa were aware enough at the end to care. Seeing them reduced that way was not the last memory I wanted of them.

It was very hard to move past that last horrible image of my father to all the memories of good meals together and chess games we played and him coming to all my games in high school and us sitting on the couch watching Star Trek after he’d get home from dialysis. For years that image of that damned ventilator still going after he’d flatlined stood between me and all those good memories that had filled my life.

I know that for others it’s different. I took some Jungian psychology class the year after my dad died and one of my fellow students talked about being with his grandma when she died and what a wonderful transcendent experience it was. (I honestly wanted to throttle him…) So maybe for others it would be different.

But if in the coming months you lose someone you love and you’re not able to be there with them in those last moments, don’t let that eclipse all the moments that came before. Don’t be bitter or angry about not being able to say goodbye. Tell them you love them now. Focus on the good moments you shared. Look through the photos or the emails or the texts or the Facebook posts. See them as they were when they were vibrant and alive. Carry that forward with you.

My dad has now been gone from my life for longer than he was in it. (By a number of years.) But he is still the single most important person in my life. I was blessed with a father who knew what it meant to be a good father. Who loved and supported his kids unconditionally. Who treated us with patience and forgiveness even when we were at our worst. Who showed us how to treat others to make the world a better place.

I miss him still. And today I’ll have a good steak dinner in his memory and I’ll think about all the good moments we shared and how fortunate I was to have him in my life for as long as I did. And how fortunate I am to have his memory with me always.

 

So Here’s The Thing…

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long while now when people talk about universal health care and basic income, but that I’ve never really wanted to spell out because I have no solutions to offer and it’s a very bleak view of the world.

But I think it’s maybe time to voice this thought?

I’ve thought for a long time now that we were heading towards a branching point in society. And that the United States was very likely to fall on one side of that branch while most other Western countries were going to fall on the other side of the branch.

What it revolves around is this idea that we all deserve universal health care and a basic living which those who advocate for believe to be a basic human right. But the thing is that there’s a large portion of U.S. society who either implicitly or explicitly don’t actually believe that.

See, if you want to take a very cynical view of the U.S. (and many other countries quite frankly) you would look and you would see that those at the top have built their wealth on the efforts of all of those below them. He who makes the most is he who is best able to leverage the work of others.

Not really a new concept, actually.

For hundreds of years those at the top have needed the physical labor of those at the bottom. They needed bodies. Lots of them. If you’re going to ship thousands of products all over the world, someone has to box up all those products and deliver them, right? If you’re going to have retail stores someone has to stock the place and take customer payments. If you’re going to have a consulting firm someone needs to do the analysis and presentation.

Because of this need for bodies to create the value that those at the top leverage, there has always been at least a minimal motivation to make sure that enough bodies were available to leverage and that those bodies were educated in such a way that they fit into the slots they needed to fit into and that they stayed healthy enough to do what was needed and were paid enough to keep them from going to work for the competition.

But to be clear it was never about caring for those people. It was never about seeing them as human beings and wanting them to be happy and fulfilled. It was always about putting the right widget in the right spot to maximize value where that widget happened to be a person who demanded certain treatment.

Now, here’s where the upcoming branch occurs.

With increasing technology, especially in robotics, automation, and advances in health care, we are reaching a point where we have more bodies than those at the top need to create their wealth. They can replace the bodies they used to need with robots or self-driving cars or smart computers that can duplicate human thought processes. Or they can have one person do the work of ten.

And with extended life expectancy the wink-wink, nudge-nudge promise of retirement suddenly becomes something that people could realistically live long enough to achieve.

But those who leverage others for wealth have no interest in people who are not providing them with value. They don’t really want to pay out for years to someone who is now doing nothing for them. Or to all those workers who they don’t need anymore because a robot does the job just fine now.

Those people used to leveraging others now want those excess people to go away.

Sometimes when I see people talk about universal healthcare I will see someone ask, “Do they really want people to die?” and I want to quietly whisper to them, “Yes, they do, actually.”

Because once they don’t need those workers to create their wealth for them, they really truly have no need for those people to continue to be alive. They don’t believe that we’re all in this together or that we should help one another out. They believe in a transactional world where you only receive in proportion to what you give and if you can’t give, well then f you.

That’s the dark path the U.S. is headed down. It’s not UBI and health care and we’re all in this together. It’s “if you don’t provide me with value, then you can die for all I care.”

And I honestly think that’s part of the tug-of-war we’re now seeing over COVID-19. There really truly is a certain portion of our U.S. population with the attitude that those older people who can no longer be leveraged for value can acceptably die as long as it doesn’t interfere with their day-to-day lives.

(I have no doubt there are some looking at what we spend on Social Security and experiencing a sick little moment of glee thinking how much less we might be spending in a few years depending on how high those fatality numbers go.)

Which is why the messaging that we’re all in this together and that we need to stay home to protect the most vulnerable among us is wasted on those people. They simply don’t care about the most vulnerable among us.

The only way to appeal to that sector of society is to make it personal to them. To make them understand that they could personally die or be impacted. That breaking our healthcare system means that broken leg from their ski accident goes septic instead of being treated by a top surgeon or that cancer goes undetected or that appendix bursts or that heart attack isn’t treated in time to save them.

And the only way we’re going to get things like UBI and universal health care and better income equality in the U.S. is by making it clear to those at the very top that they risk losing everything if they don’t share some, a lesson that’s been learned over and over again throughout history in the most brutal of ways and then is promptly forgotten until it happens yet again.

Oh, and the other branch of course is the one you see in other Western countries where the belief is that we’re all in this together and that we collectively create the wealth our country sees and that therefore that wealth should be distributed at a basic level to all members of society.

Somehow I don’t see the U.S. ever getting there. Which means twenty years from now this will be a really ugly place to live. If not before then.

And on that cheery note…

Writing During Wrenching Times

It’s weird. I’m about to dive into the third and final draft of my sixth cozy mystery. I only finished the first draft on March 2nd and the second draft on the 13th and yet I know going back to it will be odd.

Because it’s a contemporary series and this story ends on the first day of spring, which is basically right now. And I know, for example, that there’s a little back and forth scene in there where my hero and heroine (because there’s a romance subplot) are bantering back and forth about all the places where they could go for a weekend getaway. My heroine suggests Iceland or Argentina or Guatemala. My hero is all for San Diego.

It’s a conversation that I could’ve seen happening when I wrote it a month ago. But now…

Not so much. I’m still going to finish it up as if it wasn’t happening in this world and this spring. But something that should’ve passed by as a nothing scene will have a different resonance for readers now.

My thought had been that I’d turn to a fantasy novel next. I’ve had three of them percolating away in the background of my mind, but in the last couple weeks it’s like those three novels just dried up and disappeared. Maybe because in my fantasy I like to wrestle with big ideas and I’m not sure what ideas I can safely wrestle with right now.

(I had a post I’d written yesterday that I chose not to publish about all the dark things I’ve thought about as part of this whole thing. Those squiggly little thoughts that were well hidden under a rock but are starting to see the light as people reveal themselves through their actions. But who wants to write about that when it’s playing out right here, right now?)

It’s a challenge. To write at all. To figure out what to write. To keep going and keep focused rather than watch the chaos and try to figure out what’s coming next or how bad it’ll get. To not take the anger and anxiety and amplify and spread it further, either in person or through my writing, but to at the same time make sure that people understand what’s coming.

But what’s the other choice? Do you write about happy fluffy bunnies when the world is on fire? People do need them, but wow that’s a tough one to pull off.

And I know the wrenching change isn’t done happening just yet either. So what seems good to write today may not seem so great in six weeks when that first draft is done…But if you want to keep moving forward you have to do it regardless.

 

Reading is My Refuge

My last two years at Stanford were two of the hardest years of my life. I had decided to triple major–which included a major I didn’t even start until my junior year–and I was also working more than full time to pay for room and board. So 19 or 20 units each quarter plus 50 hours of work a week. Oh, and I was commuting from Sunnyvale my junior year so add in a real drive each day as well.

It may seem strange, but what got me through it was reading. Mostly fiction books, but some non-fiction too. (That was when Guns, Germs, and Steel came out and I absolutely loved that book.) That first finals week I think I read three fantasy novels while studying for and taking all of my exams.

I was lucky to work in a bookstore and so have free access to books. (It was a company program, I wasn’t cheating in any way.) But even if I hadn’t, I would’ve worked an extra hour a week to be able to buy books, they were that important to me.

Which is why yesterday I dropped the ebook prices on about a dozen different titles. Since I know there are people like me out there who are desperately in need of a distraction right now, I thought I’d help out a bit.

We’re all going to need to get away and disconnect to make it through this. For some that will be video games or TV shows or movies. For others it will be books.

So…If you’re a book person, here’s what I’ve put on sale. It’s a very eclectic mix as you’ll see. Hopefully there’s something in there for everyone:

Just click on the image to be taken to the Books2Read page which should have links for all retailers. Or you can just go to your favorite retailer and look the titles up. All except for Erelia are available everywhere and most libraries should also be able to get them.

Non-Fiction ($2.99 USD each)

Excel for Beginners open sans boldv2

Excel for Beginners: A guide to Microsoft Excel for those who need to master the basics.

 

 

Budgeting for Beginners open sans

Budgeting for Beginners: A book that will teach you how to figure out where you are financially, judge what that means, and give tips for how to improve. Especially helpful right now for those who are finding themselves without a steady paycheck, because it covers how to approach irregular income like that. (Also available in audio as the Juggling Your Finances Starter Kit.)

Quick--Easy-Cooking-for-One-KindleQuick & Easy Cooking for One: Exactly what it says. A guide to cooking for yourself for the absolute beginner. More concept-based than step-by-step, but it does include recipes.

 

 

Writing for Beginners open sans

Writing for Beginners: An overview of what a beginning writer should know to get started. Includes discussions of point of view, tense, as well as agents and publishing paths. (Also available in audio under the title The Beginning Writer’s Guide to What You Should Know.)

 

Dont Be a Douchebag PC version 20160803v10Don’t Be a Douchebag: Online Dating Advice I Wish Men Would Take: A snarky guide to online dating for men who aren’t doing so well at it. (Also available in audio. Some retailers may have a different cover.)

 

 

Fiction:

Riders-Revenge-The-Complete-Trilogy-GenericThe Rider’s Revenge Trilogy: ($4.99 USD) A feminist YA fantasy adventure trilogy about a young girl who sets out to avenge her father and finds herself caught up in much bigger issues.

 

 

Erelia blue flame 20151222v5Erelia: (Available on Amazon Only, $2.99 USD and in KU) A dystopian utopia. Life seems perfect on the surface, but the reader sees just what horrible actions create that perfection. Also has a pandemic subplot. (I had unpublished this one just because I thought it needed a sequel and I wasn’t sure when I’d write that sequel, so be forewarned.)

 

A-Dead-Man-and-Doggie-Delights-KindleA Dead Man and Doggie Delights: (99 cents) First in what will soon be a six-book cozy mystery series set in the Colorado mountains. For lovers of Newfoundland dogs, Colorado, and quirky characters who like a little murder on the side. (Book 2, A Crazy Cat Lady and Canine Crunchies is also reduced to $2.99 USD.)

 

Something-Worth-Having-KindleSomething Worth Having ($2.99 USD): Contemporary romance bordering on women’s fiction. About a woman facing a breast cancer diagnosis who goes on a road trip with a man she is absolutely not allowed to fall in love with. (A related but standalone title, Something Gained, is also just $2.99 right now.

 

Let’s Talk Markets

It’s an ugly day on the U.S. stock market today. Again. And there can be a temptation to want to call your broker up and say, “Put it all in cash. Get me out of this mess.” But unless you need that money in the short-term (in which case you were gambling anyway), you shouldn’t do that.

Let me give you an analogy. I used to fly a lot for work. Sometimes I’d be on a flight and we’d get a lot of turbulence. To the point where you’d wonder, “Is this it? Are we going down?”

But I didn’t panic in those moments. Because I would ask myself: “Do I really think this plane is going to crash? Am I about to plummet into the earth from 30,000 feet and go up in a ball of flame?”

There was only one time in all those many times I flew where my answer was, “Maybe?” The rest of the time my answer was, “No. I think it’s going to be rough and I’ll keep an eye on the overhead bins and hope that big guy stays in his seat, but I’m going to survive this just fine.”

That one time I thought “maybe” I asked myself what freaking out would do for me. Would my screaming or hyperventilating or repeating “we’re going to die, we’re going to die, we’re going to die” change that outcome?

My answer was “No”. If we were going down, nothing I could do at that point was going to change it.

So I forced myself to take a couple of deep breaths (yoga breathing is good for this) and I gritted it out and we landed just fine.

That’s what most investors need to do with the markets right now. If you’re looking at your savings or your retirement fund and you’re thinking, “oh my god, I’m about to lose it all,” I want you to step back and ask yourself, “Do I believe the United States economy is going to fail? Do I believe that our currency is going to become worthless? Do I believe that five years from now we won’t exist as a thriving economy?”

I would hope for most of you that the answer would be No, the U.S. economy is not going to fail. The world economy is not going to fail.

Is the U.S. facing a recession? Yeah. Are some people going to go bankrupt as a result of this current situation? Yes. Will some companies go bankrupt as well? Yes. But the entire U.S. economy? I don’t think so.

Which means that if you sell now when the markets are down all you are doing is locking in your losses. You will guarantee that the bad outcome happens to you. It’s like jumping out of that plane that’s having some turbulence. It’s going to land fine (assuming your hasty opening of the emergency exit didn’t just kill everyone), but your jumping from the plane will have guaranteed the bad outcome happens to you.

Keep this in mind: For every single person who is selling right now, there is someone buying. (Now the reason we’re seeing such a drop is because the people willing to buy are only willing to buy at a lower price than they would’ve bought at a month or two ago. But still, the point remains. For every single person bailing out of the market, there is someone buying.)

The long-term trend of markets is to recover and move upward. So if you have ten years? Twenty? Thirty? Hold steady. Keep your investments.

If you’ve figured out that stock market investing isn’t for you because this raises your blood pressure and you can’t stop hitting refresh, that’s okay. But wait to get out of the markets. Let them recover some first. Don’t lock in your losses.

And if you think this is it? That the end of the U.S. economy has come, then ask yourself the next question. “What does selling now do for you?”

Because if you’re right, converting those holdings into cash that won’t have any value anyway isn’t going to help you. We’ll be back to “Hey, buddy, can I trade you this rabbit I just caught in my backyard for some of those carrots you grew?” at which point it all becomes moot.

So hold on. Hold the course. Don’t panic if you have the time to sit this one out.

 

Walking The Line

I have to say that I admire Dr. Fauci because he does something I couldn’t possibly manage. He somehow doesn’t directly contradict the man who can fire him while still trying to get out the “truth” while also keeping it dialed back enough to not throw the entire country into a panic. (Although the empty grocery store shelves in parts of the U.S. may indicate that we’re a little out of balance on that one.)

I’m struggling with how to walk that line myself right now.

I actually logged onto my one remaining Twitter account (which has been on hiatus for something like two years because that place amplifies negativity for me) to tweet at my governor this morning to please for the sake of sanity close bars and restaurants before St. Patty’s Day becomes Kill A Grandparent day, but then I just couldn’t do it.

I wholeheartedly believe that in the Denver area where we have community spread that letting bars and restaurants remain open tomorrow will mean overwhelmed hospitals in two to four weeks, if we’re not already there by then.

But…

I think there’s only so much angst and outrage you can feel before you just stop. I have a friend on FB who has been posting about the current administration for the last three years. And while I don’t disagree with her, I’ve had her on mute for most of that time. Because I just can’t live in that emotional space for any period of time.

So then I was going to post a picture of my dog on Twitter instead. Like, here, have some joy. But it turns out they don’t take JPG files? So now I’m here.

Have a picture of a dog. Feel a moment of joy. Stay home. Read a book. Watch a movie. Binge a TV series. Be safe. I’m off to disconnect and edit a book.

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Effective Communication is Key

Don’t worry my writer followers, although this touches on coronavirus (again) it is also geared towards writers at the end, so hang in there with me.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been spending what is probably too much time trying to figure out what was headed my way and how to prepare for it when it comes to COVID-19, the latest coronavirus outbreak. (When my grandma asked me yesterday if I’d stocked up for this thing, I said “Yes, five weeks ago” and I was not kidding. Better to be prepared and not need it than not prepare in my opinion.)

At the end of the day the best resources I found were on Twitter. Most of those resources have been very good about simplifying highly technical medical discussions so that someone like me–an interested layperson with no medical training–can understand what they were saying. (Flatten the curve, social distancing, etc.)

(I have bookmarks right now to @JeremyKonyndyk, @CT_Bergstrom, @ScottGottliebMD, and @juliettekayyem among others if you’d like to go down the rabbit hole yourself.)

But I’ve been thinking a lot about a thread I saw last week by what was probably a highly-educated researcher summarizing very important research. (I want to say it was about IGG antibodies, but don’t quote me on that because I am not a medical researcher and I can’t find the thread to verify.)

I ran across this particular thread because one of the people I was following had shared it and it was supposed to contain some sort of good news with respect to the virus. But by the time I finished the thread I had no clue what it was saying. None.

What they provided was a series of technical facts that made perfect sense to them. Something along the lines of “At 2 days, XYZ levels are .213% but by 5 days they have dropped to .013% but FGH levels have risen to 3%.”

Anyone in their field would’ve probably read that summary and said, “Oh, wow. Great news. Thanks for sharing.”

But for those of us who didn’t know what those abbreviations meant or what the percent values represented, we were completely lost. That researcher needed one or two tweets more to say, “And this is what that means.”

The reason I bring it up here is because at the very bottom of the thread someone had actually responded something along the lines of “Could you please simply that for us non-technical types?” and the author of the thread replied, “I did.”

I laughed, because, well, no. They did not.

They were so caught up in their area of expertise that they couldn’t step back from it to make what they were saying accessible to a non-technical audience. Which is absolutely crucial when dealing with an issue like we’re dealing with right now. The scientists and doctors can see what’s happening in their area of expertise, but then they need to pass that information on to others to get them to act.

Someone needs to translate R-nought values and CFRs into something my grandma can understand.

It’s not enough to know something or to personally understand it. If you want others to learn or to take action based upon what you know, you have to be able to translate what you know in such a way that others can also understand and act upon it.

As most of you who follow this blog know, I write a lot of non-fiction, some of it on more technical topics like Microsoft Excel and regulatory compliance. One of the consistent challenges in writing those books is determining who my audience is, because it can’t be everyone. I have to choose a target knowledge level for my audience and then present that audience with enough information to further their understanding but not so much information that I lose them and not at such a simple level that they disconnect and move on because they already know everything I’m saying.

That means I can’t stop in the middle of a book on regulatory compliance fundamentals and have a ten-page debate with myself about the optimal regulatory structure for the financial services industry. I may be able to write those ten pages, but that book is not the place to do it.

You have to know your audience and gear your message to that audience.

I’ve seen this issue play out often with those who have technical training. They want to be absolutely 100% precise about what they’re saying because they know all the nuance. But being absolutely 100% precise only works if your audience is full of experts. If they’re not, you will lose them by being too precise.

The best discussion I ever saw of this issue was in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Masterclass. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to teach or persuade others because it does a tremendous job of walking through how to meet your audience where they are right now and move them forward from that point. It truly is a masterclass in rhetoric.

So bringing this back to writing and being a writer and the lesson we can all learn from this. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction it’s important to step outside of your viewpoint and ask what your audience is going to perceive. Have you given them enough information to understand what you’re telling them? Are you making assumptions about their level of knowledge that you shouldn’t be? Whether it’s explaining the relationship between two characters, describing the room they’re sitting in, or letting your readers know what XYZ stands for and what a level of .125% means, it’s all the same issue.

You can’t bring others along with you and get them to where you want them to be if you can’t communicate effectively.