The Medical Arts

I went in for a physical yesterday, my yearly allowance under my insurance plan, which I take advantage of, seeming like a good idea. I seem to be very healthy, at least if you don’t take periodontal disease into account.

And I wanted to see my doctor of 16 years one last time, just to say goodbye, although that might not be necessary (she’s moving into a new specialty practice, but seeing me isn’t out of the question, so yay).

I sent her a book, considering I wrote a few paragraphs about a moment of conversation that inspired me to start looking backwards, trying to remember what the early days were like. She was pleased.

And at the end of the visit, she gave me a gourd, beautifully painted with the cover of my book.

She does this sort of thing, and amazing paper mache art (remarkably gruesome and scary and wonderful; a bat and something that looks like like Godzilla decorate the hallway shelf in the clinic), and a photographer of stunning skill. As well as the doctor stuff.

Can you hug your doctor? If you’re a man and she’s a woman, and you have a close but professional relationship? I erred on the side of appropriate, but I was tremendously moved.

And it was a quick physical, even the awkward parts, and the lab results are great. Healthy, so far. My liver looks like someone who has never taken a drink, although eventually the years, here and there, of smoking, nothing serious mostly, a few here and there, will add up. Let’s hope that it’s mild and manageable, that exercise helps, and that I have a few years ahead.

—————-

In the coming weeks, marketing will take an upswing, so let me explain. It would be terrific to sell thousands of books, because that’s income and it allows me to focus on writing, rather than working at WalMart (I’m a little anxious at the moment, losing a chunk of non-writing income and wondering what I can do, at 56, to increase the cash flow), but that’s not really the goal, since it’s not really realistic. I’m mostly looking for some name recognition, just a tiny expansion of my audience, so I can see what happens next.

In the meantime, I have a talisman…

Combo

Home, Older and Wiser

My flight last night from Austin to Seattle was scheduled to leave at 6:40pm and arrive at 9:15. Add two hours for the time difference and that’s 4-1/2 hours, too long for this particular flight, which I know from experience.

Probably early, I texted my wife from the plane, just before takeoff, and I was very right. Whatever calculations had been made, whenever they were, about an early evening flight on the last day of February, a Saturday, were conservative. We were wheels down a good 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and we knew we would be from the onset.

I watched St. Vincent, the Bill Murray film I’d downloaded onto my iPad before I left for Texas, before I got sidetracked by my free viewing of Birdman. It was surprisingly compelling, or at least watchable, even if it got predictable and sappy in predictable and sappy ways. This was curious, as it featured heavyweights (Murray, Melissa McCarthy, and Naomi Watts, all of whom did excellent work, even Ms. Watts, stuck with fighting cliché in every scene as a Russian prostitute who was pregnant. She kept the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope at bay by being rough, selfish, and surprisingly practical, even if her idea of a meal is spaghetti with green beans).

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McCarthy fought her own stereotype, playing an overworked and still-grieving single mom after leaving her cheating-heart lawyer husband (lawyer would come into play) and moving next door to Murray, starting by causing  physical damage to his front yard (which was probably an improvement).  Not exactly a meet cute, and romance was off the table, as Murray was protective of his hooker and, surprisingly in its sweetness, somebody else.

And it featured a young actor who looked to be distantly related to the Culkin breed. He was smart and sensitive, a runt who endured hazing at his new Catholic school, his first class taught by a refreshing performance by Chris O’Dowd as a priest who understood why parents send their kids there, regardless of their brand or none of religious feeling.

When this boy, Oliver, played by Jaeden Lieberher, an observant and tolerant tweener, gets stuck with Murray as sort of an afterschool sitter, compensated at 12 bucks an hour (he was running tight on funds), they develop a relationship that, again, fulfills a trope.

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Murray was a marvel, and coming from a Bill Murray fascination and admiration it was a surprisingly subtle characterization, as always with these curmudgeons creating that audience dynamic of trying to figure out his story. Murray showed off a Boston accent, one I know but have no expertise in, but I bought it. A really nice performance.

But, again. Not a Wes Anderson film. I could savor the performances and roll my eyes at the storyline, which was heading exactly where we thought it would, but the ending is happy and I can live with happy endings, trite or not.

And at the end, we have a family of sorts, spaghetti and all. It seems to be all that matters.

———————

We also have a family of sorts, scattered and with their own problems, but I was arriving at the tail end of trauma, to some stability. Treating a 16-month-old for diabetes Type 1 is an exercise in achieving stability, given his serious diabetic ketoacidosis episode in the hospital, young life on the line. He became different over the course of my week, surrounded by love and safety. He is a happy baby, with manageable blood sugars , in this special case geared toward preventing hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood glucose levels, increasingly dangerous because of the developmental delays and damage caused in a person this young, with a big brain just forming).

So they take levels in the 200s and don’t sweat it, although he’s finally stabilizing. A few mildly tense nights, and one crazy evening when he took a bath and then ran the hallways nekkid for a while, a burst of activity, dropping his sugar to the 90s and 80s, a new range. A little sugar water raised it back up to his normal, and he was fine, active, and happy the entire time, but it was a mystery and explained by an almost-joyful endocrinologist on-call, who looked through the chart and said, “He’s stabilizing and becoming a regular toddler with diabetes type 1.” That is, sometimes serious diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can result in a temporary insulin resistance (common in diabetes type 2), in which he didn’t respond as well to insulin, but perhaps that has dissipated.

A brief primer, in case you’re like me and had a vague idea of type 1, more familiar with type 2, the increasingly prevalent form that involves less production of insulin and a resistance, meaning that it doesn’t quite do its job. This is often handled with diet and other modifications, along with medications that eliminate in many cases injections of insulin. The causes can be vague, but it’s often seen with obese people and other issues. It’s manageable.

Type 1 is a different animal. It’s an autoimmune disorder, where the body’s mighty immune system, sometimes instigated by a virus (coxsackievirus in particular, which Bix had six months ago). It has nothing to do with diet, and with his parents Mr. Bix’s nutrition has always been top notch. No refined sugar to speak of, no junk, veggies and meat protein, and in fact it’s a challenge to make sure he has a carbohydrate segment of his meals, which can come with milk and, as it turned out, Grandpa’s attempts at low-carb mini-muffins, a big hit and a learning experience for me. Baking with almond meal/flour and coconut oil, Stevia and apple cider vinegar, mashed together with blueberries, bananas, and apple sauce., they pack a calorie punch (95 calories) and 4 gm of carbs per, which is a quarter of his carb requirements for a meal (milk serves as an adjunct). Toddlers need those carbs, as limited as they are, while his brain grows.

But he’s happy and eating like a horse, playing and grinning, sleeping very well, enjoying the attention from mama, Mamie (my daughter’s mother in law), and me. It takes a village, and in this case a small trio of the best kind of village, a love village. He got a lot of attention.

I did what I could, playing with him, making him breakfast, baking those muffins that consisted of a quarter of what they call a carb unit, and of which he needs 3-5 or so per day. Again, milk helps, and the fine tuning has become natural. If anything, it was tricky persuading medical personnel that Bixie has never eaten of the American culture; no French fries for him. Veggie smoothies and Paleo-esque protein loading; these are omnivores, with an affection for slow-cooking meat, and kale has been a part of his diet for a long time.

——————

And I slept at home last night, waking at interesting moments, imagining I heard Bix crying and mentally picturing myself still on the living room couch, command central.

I also saw a nice collection of PBS children’s programming (Sesame Street looks revamped a bit from 20 year ago) and endless comfort viewings of A Muppet Christmas Carol, a favorite of his. I got familiar with nutrition alternatives for the diabetic toddler, including Stevia for baking, almond meal/flour, coconut oil, etc. It’s interesting, right out of the Paleo handbook, and maybe it will carry over.

—————

It was a busy week, all of us asking questions and wanting blood sugar reports and commenting on his mood, which changed in a positive direction over the course of a week. This boy will be fine. A cure is on the horizon, and new therapies and technology are changing the game. This is complicated at the moment, given his age, but controlled and reaching stability.

—————

And my book, Learning to Walk, has had a surprising reaction, given that I just put a few posts on Facebook and Twitter. Books and Kindle edition orders are slow but steady, and marketing has only barely begun. I have plans.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the paperback and to the Kindle version. If you’ve read it already, or plan to, once again I’d make the point that reviews on Amazon are very important. If you have the time and inclination, I’d appreciate it. It makes a big difference.

Now to readjust to home, sleep in a real bed, work on a real computer with a keyboard, monitor and mouse (old school. Or just old). I love my mobile devices and take them anywhere, but it’s hard to manage the nuts and bolts of publicity from mobile. Back to work.

And back to the new normal, with diabetes research and nutritional planning. From here, I just wait for updates and wish them the best, and hope for another visit soon. He babbles, says a few words, including something that sounds like, “mmmpa,” which is close to a good try at Grandpa.

And he will remember Grandpa, or at least his muffins, and now we’re at an interesting stage. Soon he will be talking, and I will fill his head about cosmology and language and concepts, conversations that I remember from so many years ago, leaving a trail that my daughter uses to good advantage.

And Bixie? A young man with a horn, of course.

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Going South, Politely

It just occurred to me that if this book were a movie, it would be rated PG. Not even PG-13, pretty sure. There is no sex, no violence, and a couple of mild swear words, one used humorously and one because I just felt like it.

This is actually a pretty accurate representation of my life at times, although really? The movies of our lives would pretty much all be NC-17, maybe a few Rs.

OK, I retract that. Definitely PG-13, for the drinking. But otherwise, it’s pretty easy on the eyes.

Not that it’s been sanitized. I just write for newspapers. There are rules. You can say “hell” and “damn,” but let’s keep it to a minimum. And I do anyway. I’m not opposed to swearing, but there are plenty of words.

I only mention this because (1) I’m staring at the clock and realize that I have three hours to shower and pack, which even done carefully shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes, and (2) there’s this weird tendency in the memoir-ish world to make stuff up. We all know it. Authors admit it. Some is done for humor, some to shine up the dull parts.

I sort of understand, certainly don’t care all that much, and sort of don’t understand. Where’s the fun in writing truth if you have to spice it up with fiction?

It’s not the whole truth, of course. I cut out probably 100 pages of material, because no one cares how much I really, really hated playing high school football, as little as I did thatfilm_ratings1. Not for me. Things like that.

Otherwise, it’s dumb to hurt feelings or open up old wounds, or be gratuitous or spice up moments that feel a little bland. Life is plenty bland. Leave it in, take it out, but do the best you can and rely on contemporaneous notes, which thankfully I had, because my memory has a habit of telling me all sorts of ridiculous stories which couldn’t possibly have happened.

At any rate, I’m heading for Texas, for family, for tacos and little boys. Maybe it’ll make a good story. Profanity will be limited. See ya.

Late Breaking

Well, they move faster over there in…where is Amazon? It’s here somewhere. Can’t really pinpoint it.  Anyway, the Kindle edition was finalized and before I got to the “s” sound in “soon” on a Facebook post, someone had already downloaded it. Woo. Hoo.  Gotta love living in the future.

So for those of you who only visit me here, the link for the Kindle version is here. And I would note that if you bought a paperbook version, you can score the Kindle edition for those many, many times you want to reread it for a buck-ninety-nine, part of Kindle Select. Everybody gets options. Go for it.

Final

Ready To Fly

I had a nice lunch Tuesday with my publisher, the ex-LA area reporter who created a little empire of newspapers up here, slightly north of Seattle. A Fusion Thai restaurant, a good place to go when stress and anxiety are always leading me toward refined sugar. You can run but you can’t hide, although you can try (what? I had chicken skewers, barely dipped in peanut sauce. I was good).

It’s only one of the compulsive behaviors I’ve documented over the years, the residua of lopping off one of the big ones. We compensate, in other words, particularly toward the beginning, and I’ve begun to see them as loops, sci-fi style, in which I’m stuck in the same routine, day after day.

The only difference is I recognize it. Honestly. That’s the only difference I can see. I know it when I see it. How I deal with it is another question, and the answer is either to let it run its course, my eyes always on the prize, or else to switch things up on purpose. Depending on the intensity.

And sometimes you feed your soul with what it seeks, because stress kills faster than sugar. And then tomorrow is another day, and somehow that seems to work with me. Just keeping track.

My publisher and I talked about the book, definitely, but also the old days; there are only a few of us left from 2001, when I started writing for his company, and I expressed some regret that I didn’t stick my head in the office more often over the years, just to say hi. I have my share of little families, scattered over the city and the region and the world; I could work a little harder.

I also had a conversation the other day with the young woman who has cut my hair for (everyone gasp) seven years now. She’s always been a beautiful woman of a large size, and now she’s slimmer, gradually, every time I see her, and always happy, and she knows. We all eventually figure it out, I guess; it’s hard to ignore. Carbohydrates have their place, but they need caution. They poke our pancreases, spilling out insulin that serves as a choo-choo train for fat storage.

I didn’t talk about the book with her; my work rarely comes up. We share stories of our families, her parents, my kids. I told her about Bix, who has his own issues with insulin, although it has nothing to do with a sweet tooth.

And I leave in two days to touch him, see him smile, marvel at his skill at walking and listening and laughing, and just watching, watching. He will be a watched little boy for a long time now, and not just by visiting grandpas who see solutions in new lives. They change the world, we all do, but it’s nice to catch him on this side of the calendar. But he needs eyes on him, and will, and extra ones can help.

So I begin to get ready to travel, first time in a couple of months, heading for central Texas. Their weather looks remarkably like ours, mild, some sun, some showers, as we’re having a record-breaking February, but as much as I enjoy a little sunshine I’ve already had my share. That’s not why I’m going.

So I’ll take little break from book flogging, which is oddly, and amusingly, distasteful. When I get back, March will enter the way it decides to enter, and we move on to a new phase, but in the meantime I spend a tiny amount on advertising and see what happens. I update Facebook and Twitter. I check numbers relentlessly.

It’s exhausting, in a way, self promotion, but exhilarating in that pure free market sense. This is what I do, here it is. I can put up with distaste. Nothing is free.

And sunshine in Texas? You betcha, and mine has a name. He stuck out his bottom lip on a quick FaceTime call from the hospital room last week, looking a little put out, and then I moved my face into the frame and he grinned. Who knows? But that was some sunlight, and I can’t wait to bask.

———

A short book video John and I put together yesterday, just for fun, aiming for satire as well as attention. The whole thing is silly. Everybody learns to walk. Relearning is the interesting part. Semicolons help.

 

Sugar Blues and Bixie Sticks

My new column is now up. If you’ve been paying attention, you already know this, or have read some of it already on this blog. I have a feeling it’ll stay fresh, at least with me, for a while.

On Feb. 10, Bixie, the one with the toothy grin and firm handshake, all of 16 months and 1 day spent breathing our air and observing our strange ways, had been under the weather, congested and just not feeling well. Besides the excessive thirst and the rapid breathing. The doc at the urgent care my daughter took him to got a chest x-ray, which looked OK, but this physician didn’t like what he saw in a sick little boy and sent them on to the Children’s Hospital, where my grandson crashed on a gurney and was taken ASAP to ICU in order to save his life.

It’s A Book

I’ve decided that today is the official Release Day of Learning to Walk. In classic indie publishing style, I’m deciding everything. I do believe I will decide to have more Release Days, too. But today will do for now.

I’m sorry for those of you who don’t like Amazon, or don’t like their business model, or don’t buy online, or don’t care for Jeff Bezos. I get that. I have my own corporate enemies.

But they’re local, and they’re ours, and actually I’m OK with them, and they sell books. In a few weeks, assuming the bigger distributors are interested, it’ll start showing up in other places, but probably not a lot of bookstores, if any outside of this area (and it’s like pulling teeth to even get them to stock independently published books).  So right now, Amazon is where you can get the book.

I’m tempted to beg a little here, if tongue in cheek a bit, just because I’ve lost a significant amount of income from a non-writing source recently, and now my daughter and her family have been hit with medical expenses that almost rival ours. Life just keeps the meter running, sometimes.

But the truth is, nobody makes money from writing books, in general. Some, of course, make oodles and oodles of money. But there are a lot of books, and I’m not famous, and there are other roadblocks. So while selling a few thousand copies would be a nice relief (and that’s probably not likely), it wouldn’t make much of a dent. You get it. So forget the begging (but remember it at the same time. Like it was a dream).

I wrote Learning to Walk because, unusual for me, I had to. I have to write something all the time, because people pay me and they have deadlines, even if I have no ideas. But I had to write this, it felt like, because it was keeping me from writing anything else I had in mind, other than weekly columns about how warm our winter is and how sad the Super Bowl was.  Just couldn’t move on. Thought there was a story there. Couldn’t make it work. Took me years to figure it out.

And then, really, in a matter of months I did. Figured it out, did marathon writing, rewriting, editing, got it read by people I trust, and sent it to the printer. And here we are.

What is it? I’m not quite sure. I start with my adventures with alcohol, how I reached a point where I was sick and miserable enough that I could actually ask for help. But that’s the beginning, even though it runs a bit throughout the book.

As I say in the book, it’s what happened next. The good, bad, and painful.

And honestly, I had that part.  Had it for a long time. Just couldn’t see why anyone would want to read it.

But I got through that, and ended up with something that’s scattered, a little, and odd, a little, and a story of how life is unfair and tragic, sometimes, often painful and frightening, and certainly helpless. And how we need to fight that.

Or how I needed to fight it, anyway.

If you want to know how a fairly unimpressive guy deals with recovering from addiction, there’s some stuff there.  If you want to hear stories about hospital rooms and surgery and strength that only comes from a woman who was born and reared in Texas, dammit, that’s there, too.

If you knew me in high school or college, it might explain a few things. That part felt important. I was lost, wandering, immature, uncertain, and if you knew me then maybe you wondered, a little.  Maybe this explains some of that.

To my atheist and agnostic friends, I want to tell you that I mention God. You can skip that part, although you might be interested in my messy, unstructured relationship with the unknown. I dunno; it might make some believers mad, too. It’s just my personal theological philosophy, and what I’m aware of, not what I believe. Whatever you call God (I stick with God), if you do, or even if you get all Bill Maher and call God the imaginary man in the sky (the man is a moron, I’m sorry, but he is), it plays a part, here and there.

Mostly, though, this is about what happened next, as I said. I got sick, then better. My wife got really sick, and better. And there were happy interludes, and lots of flashbacks, some family history, some wordiness on all sorts of subjects I should have left to experts but it’s my life, I lived it.

And there’s a resolution, of sorts, or a revelation, or at least a realization. The world is not fair. We can try to fix what we can, but mostly it’s out of our control and we’re left trying to fix ourselves.

If there’s a point to all of this, then, it’s that, at least from my experience, we can. Fix ourselves. Change. Get better. Transform. And find joy.

And then look up, just to see what’s above your head. It can surprise you, so far away, so distant, so out of your hands, and then, amazingly, brilliantly, beautifully, filled with grace and unexplained movement, it comes down to you.

Then you’ve learned to walk. Baby steps, but they add up, and that’s what I wrote.

I’m much better now, by the way.

Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Click on disturbing picture for link to book)

Rhymes With Tigers, Dances With Bears

Funny story. My last name is (probably) just a conscious choice on some 18th- or 19th-century ancestor who changed it from the original spelling as sort of a genetic marker. Last I checked, there are only about 800 people with Sigars as a surname, all in the U.S. Since it looks weird and people wonder how to pronounce it, a lot of us say, “Rhymes with tigers.” Easy to remember. And since there’s a reference to a dancing bear in the piece linked below, I fell in love with the title, “Rhymes With Tigers, Dances With Bears.” Figured that was catchy. It could mean anything, too.

It took every ounce of She-Ra power for my daughter to insist that it couldn’t be the title. I am grateful. It really makes no sense.

This is one of the earliest pieces I wrote. It was originally intended as a preface, so maybe think of it as a second preface. But it’s the latest and last excerpt I’ll post. If you’re on the fence about whether you want to read this book, this should clear it up one way or another.

And then the big day tomorrow, which I’ve decided is Release Day, although it’s been available on Amazon for a few. So more to come.

Da Book

OK, well, the kind folks at Amazon moved faster than I thought they would, and instead of Tuesday it turns out “Learning to Walk” is available now (click on cover below this post to order, if you so desire).

But I wanted to share some excerpts first, just to give you a head’s up. So just go to chucksigars.com and you can read the first one today. Second one tomorrow. Third one? I’m thinking Monday.

It’s a little different, that’s the only reason. A little grittier, as my friend Gordon Atkinson put it in his wonderful forward (tomorrow!).  Still me.

But feel free to buy one now, sight unread. Or dozens, even. Your call.

(again, click on the graphic)

Final

What Kind Of Day Has It Been?*

This was going to be a slightly different week.

There were going to be funny videos, for one thing. John and I had some ideas, simple ones but cute. And then maybe a contest, and other things. I mean, I’ve been waiting since around November.

Not that this book is life changing, other than my own, personal life. It’s just a story. You’ll have to look elsewhere for wisdom. I could offer some suggestions on where to look.  This is just a story.

My biggest fears were that it would be too dark, or different from what I usually write, or worst of all, boring. Certain people have told me that’s not the case, but these are pretty polite people.

In any case, there was no world rocking intended. You know how it goes, particularly if you write, or compose, or create, or perform. You make something, you open the cage and let it fly, you watch a little bit to see how it does, and then you move on. That’s all. This isn’t minimization, just truth.

And truth is just easier.

Our trauma this week, to tell the truth, pales compared to stories I know. Stories so sad that I don’t want to let them in, not this week, not with the worry and being so far away from that little boy with the scary blood glucose level and everything else. Not that little boy, who reached out from the womb and grabbed a huge part of my heart to hang onto, and hasn’t let go.

But, as I say, there are other, sadder stories. This one will end happily, even meaning a slightly different life for him from now on. If you’ve lost a child or grandchild, watched one suffer and die, or even if you’re just a medical professional who’s seen all sorts of things, you know this. It’s hard, it’ll get better.

It just kind of changed my plans.  And big whoop, I say, for me and my plans. Which, truth again, mostly revolve around counting the days until I get on a plane for Texas next week. And then coming home and trying to find a way to make some money again.

There’s this book, though, which hasn’t had its videos made, or its contest rules established, or any other fun things I considered. I spent hours yesterday rebuilding a web site from scratch, and that doesn’t matter either. Just needed to be done.

Anyway. I’ll be posting excerpts over the weekend, and by Tuesday I do believe the book will be ready to read, buy, borrow, whatever. I’ll be around. Packing, probably.

I did want to say this, though, in respect to the subject matter, and also to this week.

I’m not much of a quotation person when it comes to social media. Sometimes, just not often. I like good quotes, but I muse about context and things. I’d rather find my own words, even if they’re weaker.

But sometimes one grabs you, and these days I usually find them on Twitter. You just gotta know whom to follow.

Anne Lamott tweeted this a few weeks ago, then, and I knew I’d have to steal it, place it in the front of my book, say, “See? Some people can say it in 140 characters.” You don’t need context.

Although I have plenty of personal context, which is why I loved it immediately, stuck it in my book, gave it proper attribution, and then wondered for a second if I should just delete the rest of the book.  That’s the thing about certain words: They replace a lot of other, more tired words.

Anyway, tomorrow excerpt #1, sometime in the morning, but for today I’ll just share the quote, or tweet, or wisdom, or whatever, from Ms. Lamott, who said this:

“If you’ve lived a story where regular old screwed-up funny sad people like us have come through an anvil dropping on their lives, write it.”

 Final

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Aaron Sorkin liked to use this phrase on final episodes of seasons of his TV shows.