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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book: Breakthrough

Let's recap, shall we?

Dad's passing in November threw everything out of kilter, particularly writing the book.  Not just out of being in grief and recovering from losing my last remaining parent, but also because of everything that comes with a death in regard to paperwork, his estate, and so forth.  So the project I've been working on since last May, my book about having bipolar disorder, had to be put on the back burner.

In January I felt okay enough to continue working on it.  And I did.  At least for a little while.  A few more chapters were completed.

Then in February, everything slammed to a halt.

I had reached a place in conveying the narrative where my mind could not, would not, proceed any further.  It had hit a solid wall and nothing I did could break it down.  It was my memories, very painful memories, that I could not approach much less attack.

It was all of the memories of the very worst kind of person that mental illness made of me.  For twenty-some chapters it had been building to this wretched culmination, and I lacked any heart to take one step further.

The core of it was a considerable amount of material, correspondence really, from the past several years.  You could call it a kind of file.  And I couldn't open that file, though I needed contents of it to go forward with my writing.  It was a crucial amount of raw source material about myself.  I needed it for my research.  But I also see now that I needed it for my own personal understanding.

Last month helped immensely.  First the trip I made to visit family in Florida.  And then the week which my dear friend Melody spent here.  It had been Melody's idea in March that I really could go into "the file"... but also that I shouldn't be alone when I did so.  Her presence here bolstered my resolve open "the file" and see what was inside of it.  Nothing that I hadn't seen before, but it was just as painful now as it was during the time that the correspondences were accumulating.

I couldn't have done that research without a good friend being nearby who could give me encouragement and support when I needed it.

That was the end of April.  The trip to Florida renewed my cheerful spirit.  Melody's visit gave me strength to barrel through that blockade in my mind.  But something was still missing and I couldn't figure out what.  So it was that I've gone all of this month without writing anything for the book.

My narrative was still ground to a halt and I didn't know how to make it move.

Until late last night.

I finally cracked it.  The critical next chapter.  It came in a moment, the breakthrough that I had been looking for.

I spent the next few hours writing.  In the wee hours of the morning, the first draft had been completed.  And then I hurtled on to the beginning of the next chapter.

It was like a wave had been building up all of these months, finally come crashing ashore.  And when it receded, there it was: the vision of how to keep going.  How to move forward.  Three months, my efforts and frustrations were leading to this.  There were times when I genuinely wondered if I should give up this project.

Maybe it was God whispering something to me last night.  I want to think it's like that.

Writing the book is back on track.  I've broken through the wall, have overcome that torment and fear.  Doing that changed me, maybe made me a better person.  Made me stronger.

I know what to do now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chronicle of a manic-depressive episode

I'm a writer.  It's incumbent to my nature to put down my thoughts and observations, either for personal review later on or for appreciation by others so that they may come away from the time they have just spent with a little understanding and enlightenment.  At least, that is what I try to gain from anything from others that I take the time to read.  Writing is how I contribute to the larger world, and I have to be honest about what it is that I am writing about.  Regardless of how it reflects on me.

So I have no real problem with documenting my more severe bipolar episodes.  Friends on Facebook know, perhaps too well, how my writing there reflects the state of my moods.  A little over a year ago however I began to more clinically... or at least as is possible to do with such things... document my manic-depressive episodes for friends and family there to read.

There have been a lot of reasons for me doing that.  For one thing, I'm writing a whole book about having bipolar disorder, so I'm not sharing anything that won't be public knowledge anyway (at least, I hope that it will be public knowledge in the form of a published book!).  Related to that, writing on Facebook about my episodes allow me to "beta test" the tone of my writing for the book: sorta see how well it flies with others.  So far, everyone seems pretty taken in by it.  Writing about this as it happens affords a peek into something that they otherwise might never have any understanding of.  And one of the long-term benefits to me is that these "entries" do serve as a real-time journal of this condition that has wrought so much damage to my life.  Maybe there is some value in that, which I can someday look back over and draw some crucial clue from.

For the past several days, actually going back over a week and a half, I have been dealing with one such manic-depressive episode.  It had especially climbed in intensity in the last two or three days until this morning, when it finally lapsed and began to recede.

I made three entries on Facebook about it.  So I thought that I'd share those here, for anyone interested in this kind of thing.

Tuesday, May 26th, 1:28 a.m. -
Extreme depression for the past several days. From the start of the weekend on the intensity has been exceptionally severe. Depression with mixed-state of mania characterized by thoughts about death and dying, whether I have a soul or not, doubts about God really hearing me, all beyond my control absent medication... and even those aren't helping much.
There are reasons why too many bipolars commit suicide. I can barely convey the full effect of this one. Unable to live but don't know how to die. Wondering if my mind is too broken for God to care. The ghosts of so many relationships gone, because of this thing that I'll spend the rest of my life reining in.
There's a line. Most people don't know its there. You find it when you want to die. You finally cross it when the desire to no longer be here pushes you over from longed-for absence into active ideations. I have not had the ideations this time... but once more I have approached too close to the line than most people would ever want to.
"Just a little less pain, God. Just a little assurance that You are listening..."
I keep crying out to Him, desperate for Him to show me that He hears me through the madness and the despair. For God to show me that I'm not a reject, that I'm not someone He's abandoned. Because that's what I feel like, abandoned by God. And that's a worse thing than the manic-depression ever could be.
Yes, I'm on the medication. They are working. God only knows what I would be like without them.
Maybe this episode will end soon.

Tuesday, May 26th, 10:12 p.m. -
Depression/manic episode has retreated, for the most part. Still many lingering thoughts about death and questions of the soul and whether God is hearing me, however. Those were the topic of much conversation during my weekly therapy session this morning ("we covered a lot of heavy ground" in her words). Thankfully I happened to have that appointment today, when I was in dire need of it. Also discussed was the feelings of wanting to be dead, and that "line" which I explained in the previous status. Not for the first time, not for the last, I went closer to the line than in peaceful periods I would want to. She asked, again (because she had to) if I would seek help if I crossed that line into serious thoughts of killing myself. I can do that. I *have* done that and I like to think that I'll do it again when... not if, when... things come to that.
I wrote that status was to give you all some insight into what it is to be bipolar, during a particularly intensive episode. There are some reasons why I did that. One of them is because I'm writing about this in my book anyway, I thought it would be a neat idea to run this kind of material by others. Another reason is because posting these "reports" here documents something that DOES impact others.
When I've done these, I haven't asked for prayers. However, I do greatly appreciate them. And I need to express my gratitude to everyone who has lifted me up during this most recent bout with this condition.
Thank you :-)

Wednesday, May 27th, 4:57 p.m. -
Manic-depressive episode has receded. Since waking up I've had no oppressive thoughts about death or whether or not I have a soul. My frustrations with God however are seemingly never going to go away. I would still give anything for as much as a whisper from Him, that He really is listening to me. SOME indication that my mind isn't so broken that He can't hear me...
It would be nice to know if I could still have some semblance of a normal life. Maybe even a family. That's what I've asked Him most of all for.
I've tried "replicating" the episode, in my head. Tried to voluntarily bring about the feelings and thoughts that had overtaken me these past several days. I can't do it. I don't think its because of exhaustion either (mental and physical). It's because this is a disease that is so capricious. It comes and goes at its own whims. It is a separate entity from my "real" mind. I can no more "will" a bipolar episode to occur than I can command my foot to have an ingrown toenail. It's impossible to make such an intense manic-depressive episode come about. I can certainly encourage the conditions for one, by abstaining from the medications. But the arrival of the episodes themselves are completely beyond my control.
There is some strange comfort in that. Almost an affirmation that this isn't "just in my head", if you catch my meaning. That there truly is a physiological basis for this condition.
Even so, it does seem too unfair. To have a disease that sends my mood so completely out of whack and robs me of clear thinking. I *do* demand God to tell me how could He let such a thing happen, to anyone. What if mental illness keeps someone from knowing about Him at all? Is that person eternally damned because of bipolar or schizophrenia? Am I damned for wondering such things?
Is that why it's as if God doesn't hear my cries to Him? Because I don't have enough faith in Him for giving me such a damnable disease.
Theological musings aside, the episode is fast fading in the rear view mirror. So for now, I will be content with that much.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rest in peace John Nash

Very sad news today about John Forbes Nash, Jr. and his wife Alicia, who perished in an automobile accident last night in New Jersey.

I read A Beautiful Mind several years ago, and then again during research while writing my own book (even though Nash suffered from schizophrenia and not bipolar disorder).  However it was that the movie portrayed the hell that he went through, his real-life ordeal was much, much worse.  But he endured, and triumphed wildly.  His work in game theory - even as a graduate student - revolutionized economics and ultimately led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994.  I wish I had even a fraction of the mind to really appreciate the work that Nash pulled off throughout his long and brilliant career.

Thoughts and prayers going out to their family.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Look! Lindsey Stirling and Josh Groban perform "Pure Imagination"... with the Muppets!

You know you've hit the big time when you land a gig with the Muppets.  So it has now happened with violinist/dancer/artistic force of nature Lindsey Stirling.

Check out Stirling performing a rendition of "Pure Imagination" in this video mounted by Kermit and the gang (and oh yeah, vocals by this Josh Groban guy too):

Monday, May 18, 2015

Here it comes: The Knight Shift SWIMSUIT EDITION!

You couldn't resist, could you?  You were duly warned.  You were told that there was nothing that I could do.  And yet some of you couldn't keep yourselves from asking me about her.  SOME of you even went so far as to offer money for her Facebook page.  And I can't do that either.

But never let it be said that this blog doesn't try to deliver.

So it is that today, I bring to you the first ever...

The Knight Shift

Featuring my beautiful cousin Rachael as she models a variety of cutting-edge swim attire.  As well as more about her, in her own words.

"I'm local in Miami but plan to travel internationally this summer. I'm happily single and plan on that for awhile lol"

"I eat honey every day. And I love God and life!"

"I hope to stay in the light and be a light no matter the darkness I've faced or will ever face ahead."

"It's all about perspective and keeping our minds stayed on peace is key to getting through anything crazy that life brings."

"I'm hard on myself and def not anywhere close to perfect but pray for me that I will stay strong!"

"Life is tough, but God is more powerful than all that."

(Editor's note: the one below is my personal favorite of the suits that Rachael is modeling.  I've never seen a piece of fabric engineering like that.  A real work of art!)

Yes, she's beautiful no matter what she's wearing.  But Rachael also has an amazingly beautiful heart.  She is a remarkably sweet young lady and her devotion to God has inspired me to seek Him first also as I embark upon my own endeavors.  I am very blessed and honored to call her my cousin.

I've learned something from these photos, something I never understood before.  I have not ever been a real fan of "swimsuit issues" of magazines or television specials or what have you.  Yes, I'm as red-blooded a guy as you can get, but that sort of thing has never been what I go for in terms of lovely attire on a female.  What I mean is: girls in swimsuits have never "turned me on".  But in looking at these photos I've realized something: that the purpose of swimsuit photos is NOT so much the woman and how "appealing" she is, but it really is a showcase of fashion design and creativity.  A beautiful woman in a well-conceived and realized swimsuit is a magnificent work of art, to be enjoyed and appreciated as a single entity.

Well, that's what I took away from it, anyway.

And so concludes the first (only?) The Knight Shift Swimsuit Edition.  Lord only knows if there will be another :-P

Too many candidates? How to remedy the presidential debates

In the past few days I've seen a lot of commotion about the first Republican presidential "debate", set for a few months from now.  The biggest deal is about the number of candidates who may appear on the stage: some are counting as many as 19.  And there's the mess going on right now with George Stephanopoulos: the ABC whateverhedoes and how he donated $75,000 to the Clintons: common sense would be that no "journalist" that blatantly compromised would serve as moderator for any debate, much less a Republican one.

Then again, I haven't been impressed by any moderator of presidential politics in recent years.  Don't even get me started on the Fox News guy who blatantly asked Ron Paul during one of the early debates if he seriously thought he was a presidential contender.  If that wasn't biased journalism, then I don't know what is.

Back to the amount of candidates.  Actually, we can address the moderator issue as well.  There is a very simple solution.  Of course this being about the politics and power of high office, don't expect it to be adopted:

All 19 candidates in a row on stage.  The moderator asks one question to all of the candidates.  Then in random order each candidate gives his response, with a minute of time allotted for his or her answer.  No rebuttals.

It's not a "debate" in the fullest sense of the term.  More of a candidates forum.  And it's worked before.

When I ran for board of education some years ago, there were 16 candidates running for five seats.  There were two forums for candidates to express their views.  There was a televised forum, which due to studio space constraints had us going in front of the camera three at a time, and there was a public forum at one of the county's elementary schools.  Fifteen candidates total took to the stage (another candidate refused to come and tried to make a ridiculous spectacle of it later on).  I think we got in 5 or 6 questions total.  It ran quick and smooth, and everyone came away from it informed about the candidates.

It also served to engender no animosity among the candidates or toward the moderator.  When everyone is getting asked the same question, without room for obvious bias on the part of the alleged journalist doing the moderating, well... it makes for a debate that is more even-keel for all involved.

Fifteen candidates doing a debate.  That was completely fair and unbiased in regard to anyone.

Don't tell me it can't be done.  It can.  I should know.  I was there.  I was one of the candidates.

But I'm not expecting my recommendations to meet with any approval from either the Republican or Democrat parties, or the media giants who perpetuate the weary drama between them.  My suggestions are meant for a better sort of citizenry.  Maybe someday, in the not-too-distant future, those people will rise to the task and take charge of this country away from the corrupt and the power-mongers.

TWIN PEAKS is back on and David Lynch is directing!

I said a few posts down that I spent the weekend away from the Internet, so I could re-focus my thoughts, especially toward writing the book.  However this bit of news almost yanked me away and had me rejoicing on this blog.

So in case you missed it: David Lynch is returning to helm the Twin Peaks revival!  And not only that  but apparently there will be more than the nine-episode order we had already been told was coming.

Apparently the heart of the disagreement that had earlier threatened production is that Lynch wanted more resources to tell the story the way he felt it needed to be told.  Which is totally understandable.  Twin Peaks is his baby, always had been.  Nobody else could pull off the mystery, the tension, the flat-out weirdness that has made this show so consistently beloved and admired over the past two decades.  Twin Peaks never got the full resolution it deserved.  But next year, thanks to Showtime, we'll be getting that.

The show is still on for the summer of 2016.  It will air exactly one-quarter of a century after the final episode of its broadcast run in 1991.  Right on time for, as dream-Laura told Dale:

Speaking of 25 years, how has the cast fared all of this time?  Based on this video that Madchen Amick (who played Shelly Johnson) posted... they look downright great!  I think this is everyone except Kyle MacLachlan and Ray Wise (we know MacLachlan will be back as Dale Cooper, and Ray Wise's character is dead), Jack Nance died under mysterious circumstances (no joke) so Pete can't return, and Frank Sylva (Killer BOB) passed away from illness.  Otherwise it looks like the whole gang did this clip:

This is looking better than I originally imagined. Wonder if the cherry pie is as good as ever...

So... is Princess Leia now a Disney Princess or what?

Two days after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm two and a half years ago, a friend from high school told me over Facebook that her daughter was wondering about something.  It was a good question then and it's just as good if not more so now:

"Is Princess Leia from Star Wars now a Disney Princess?"

 Okay, so Leia is now under the Disney umbrella.  Admittedly, that means very little in the grander scheme of things.  I'm not seeing anyone equating Han Solo with Prince Charming after all.

But Leia is a bona-fide princess.  In fact, she's on a whole 'nother level from the Disney Princesses.  She's the adopted daughter of Bail Organa of the Royal House of Alderaan.  That's a much bigger deal than Aurora's kingdom or Ariel's realm under the sea.  Snow White had the witch trying to destroy her... but Leia had the forces of Emperor Palpatine hunting her down, led by no less a dark knight than Darth Vader himself.  Tiana is a product of the French Quarter of New Orleans.  Well, Leia comes from an even sleazier background: senate politics!  And don't even get me started on how Leia does things with her hair that Rapunzel can only dream about.

And yet the question persists: does Leia belong among the ranks of the Disney leading ladies?

Well, I have an answer, and it's kinda as official a statement as we're apt to get for the time being.

A few weeks ago I was out of town and came across a Disney Store.  I went into check out the Star Wars stuff, and once more found myself contemplating the Leia/Princesses conundrum.  Just out of curiosity I asked one of the associates, and I was expecting something of a humorous answer.  However when she called the store manager to come over, I knew that something more was afoot.  The manager told me that I was far from the only one who's asked them about that.  Indeed, so many have asked Disney Store employees across the country that question that there is now a semi-official response from Disney...

Here it is: Princess Leia is not a Disney Princess.  To be counted among their ranks, a proposed heroine must be inducted at a special ceremony at one of the Disney parks, and that hasn't happened yet for Leia.  However, that's not to say that it won't happen at all.  There is some speculation that Disney will have her coronation sometime fairly soon, possibly even in time for Episode VII: The Force Awakens this coming December.

There is a very significant amount of support for her to be made a bona fide Disney Princess.  The leadership of Disney is well aware of this.  And as Star Wars continues to grow under the Disney aegis, expect that support to increase further.

So there we have it: Leia isn't a Disney Princess yet.  But the odds to seem to be in her favor that she will be one, and sooner than later.

I know: it's not the kind of earth-stopping thing that's utterly critical.  But in this crazy world that is going more insane seemingly by the hour, I thought it was something worth chuckling about :-)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Coming tomorrow...

The post that could finally break The Knight Shift.

Maybe the post that finally sends me to prison.  Or at least will have people wanting me to get incarcerated.

This blog's most outrageous post to date.

There will be some more posts coming tomorrow (I spent most of the weekend away from the Internet completely, so I could clear my head and cut through the fog keeping me from writing for the book.  It worked, incidentally: this afternoon I finished the first new chapter since late February.)

So those posts will get done.  And then, probably late tomorrow afternoon or early evening, will come nothing less than the boldest post in this blog's history.

But I also like to think that on some level, it will be pretty funny.

What is it?  Stay tuned!

Friday, May 15, 2015

How about something beautiful for a change?

This is my cousin, Rachael:

No, guys: you may not ask me for her phone number.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Out of the Maw

Exhausted.  Worn down and running on bare metal.  Whether the drugs are helping or dragging down on mere being is something no longer discernible.  My mind is a chemical kalediscope of up and down and in and out, like one of those movies from the Sixties but without the funky soundtrack.  Trying to keep it together, without being subsumed or consumed by madness on all fronts.

These past few days, thoughts of wanting to be dead haven't stopped.  Thoughts of active ideations of suicide are not there but I'm fighting to stay away from that edge.  Something I've already come too close to.

Not the first time.  Not the last.

I didn't want to look into the abyss.  I was forced to gaze into it.

Take the meds.  Slow it down.  Up the intake.  Breathe in this lithium night.  Take the edge off.  Forget how much you lose as a writer and a thinker.  Be living, not alive.  Mere existence is a crawl.  Life to the fullest accompanied by near-psychosis, or breathing day to day without fulfillment of purpose.

Damn the disease.  Damn the drugs far more so.

I take the meds.  And I will live and be haunted for one more night.
I have no tears and I must cry.

The drugs took the tears all away.

I miss being able to cry.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

From the estate of Robert Knight...

This past day was a bittersweet one.

My sister and Dad's sister and her husband and I set to work on cleaning out the basement of my parents' house.  Just something that has to be done, sooner than later.  The entire house is being cleaned out, top to bottom.  Because in a few months the house that my family has called home for all these decades will be ours no more.

On a more personal note, I will be looking for an apartment soon, depending on where the Lord leads me.  Which, could be literally anywhere.  For the first time in my life I am truly on my own.  I did everything that I could for Mom and Dad.  Now is time at last to see what's out there.  I can go anywhere, do anything.  It's a very thrilling time in my life... and I'm feeling younger than I have felt in years.  Maybe I'll stay around here.  Or relocate to Florida.  Lately the notion of doing some overseas missionary work has crept into mind.  So many places where I could probably be happy.  Maybe at last the little bit of happiness that I've always wanted, even.

This is what Dad, and Mom, would have wanted of me, no matter where it is that I go.  And that could be any number of places.  There are only two absolutes: Tammy the Pup will be accompanying me (that little girl and I are attached at the hip) and there must be real bona-fide broadband Internet.  All this time I've been using a satellite connection and there's not only a monthly data quota, but also HORRIBLE latency.  Wherever the new digs are will certainly be a place where I can do online gaming with "Weird" Ed and all our other wacky pals.  Not to mention getting to use a Roku.

But that's yet to come.  Right now, there is the very difficult business of settling Dad's estate.  Something that I had no idea was so wrought with intricacies and hurdles.

So we spent most of the day cleaning the basement.  Going through everything.  So much of Mom and Dad's belongings and darn nearly all of it triggering memories for me.  I was literally telling Anita and my aunt and uncle the year and day that we got this item and that.  Such as the VCR that Dad bought three weeks before Christmas in 1984.  And the stereo that was a present to Mom in 1979, when I was almost six years old.  And "newer" things like the first satellite receiver, from 1997 when it was still Primestar.

All of those were so shiny and new once upon a time.  Now useless and collecting dust and forgotten about, as will be with most of the possessions around us eventually.

"Life is a vapor".  The materials which we accumulate, much more so.

So much of what we found brought back many, many cherished memories for all of us.  When we came across Dad's cap collection, that hit me hard.  He collected so many caps over the years.  We didn't know what to do except to put it with everything else going into the dumpster we've rented.  And for a while, doing that walloped me hard.  But there are other caps of his that I can hold onto, and so I can still honor his memory that way.

Some of what we've found will be sold at an estate auction later.  The rest is consigned to that dumpster.  And soon that will be the end of that.

Well, there is one other thing worth mentioning.  At long last I am looking at selling off most of my Star Wars collection.  First I have to get it cataloged... which could take weeks.  Then I have to figure out how exactly to sell it: eBay or Craigslist or somesuch.  It all needs to go to good homes.  But I'm going to keep the pieces that have especially great importance to me.  I'm still debating the Slave Leia cardboard stand-up that my sister gave me for Christmas when I was in college: she said that putting it in my apartment would make sure that I woke up to a woman every morning (her words).

It's finally sinking in.  This home will soon no longer be "home".

But I think that things will work out fine.  God has taken care of me this far along.  Maybe He will bring me a little further.

There is one thing from the estate of Robert Knight that I'm not sure how we are going to dispose of.  It's a cache of items which I discovered this afternoon, on a high shelf - untouched for decades - in the basement.  As I was pulling out dust-covered jars and bottles, some dating to the Fifties, my hand touched something round and metal.  And when I saw what it was, I could scarcely believe it.

Look!  Billy Beer!

Dad had told me years ago that he had some of this stuff, but until this past afternoon I had never laid eyes on it.  And next to the Billy Beer cans (which were still filled with beer) there were a few cans of J.R. Ewing's Private Stock, which I assume was from around 1980 and the "Who Shot J.R.?" hype.

Billy Beer.  Somehow, that made all the work and yes, heartbreak that we went through this past day worth it.  It's the kind of thing that Dad would have bought, as a novelty if nothing else.  I don't know what I'm going to do with those cans.  Maybe donate them to some strange museum for this kind of thing?

Hey, Billy Beer can't be all bad, can it?

"MMMMMMM... We elected the wrong Carter."

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The shortest scientific journal paper published... ever

"The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of 'Writer's Block'" is the title of one Dennis Upper's article, published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis in the fall of 1974.  In terms of structure and syntax it is in every way a well-researched, thoroughly annotated and concisely presented scientific paper.

It is also the shortest such paper ever published by a journal.

I don't dare excerpt it here.  You'll have to visit the article that Science Alert has about it.  Much thanks to great friend of this blog Dewana Hemric for passing it along!

EDIT:  Real Clear Science has compiled a few other brilliantly terse published science articles.  I like this one especially, a fairly recent article investigating neutrinos traveling faster than light...

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Big Bird almost flew on the doomed Challenger flight

Nearly thirty years after the Challenger disaster, it is now coming out that the first "regular citizen" to fly on a space shuttle mission was originally going to be an eight-foot tall yellow Muppet loved and adored by what has become generations of devoted fans.

Strange, but true: Big Bird almost had a seat on Challenger for its final flight.

In the new documentary I Am Big Bird, the most massive fowl on Sesame Street was in early talks to fly as he'd never flown before.  Muppeteer Caroll Spinney would have gone aboard Challenger for mission STS-51L.  It was meant to be something that would enthuse and excite children about the space program.

Can you imagine that?  Big Bird himself in orbit around the Earth, talking to children via live television.  To say nothing of what would have been some amazing footage for Sesame Street itself.

There was one, errr... "little" problem with the scheme.  NASA determined that the Big Bird costume would have been too big to really be practical aboard the orbiter.  And so it would be schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe who was scheduled for the mission instead.

"It made my scalp crawl to think I was supposed to be on that," Caroll Spinney has said.

Click here to read the Daily News's article about Spinney's... and Big Bird's... narrow escape from death.

For the first time since late February...

...I am writing for my book.

Let's summarize for a moment.  Last May and up until late October, my book was going at a very good pace.  Oh sure, there were some fits here and there, and I made a few mistakes from which I learned a great deal (and made the book much better, I think) but as this sort of thing goes, it's my understanding that this was going along better than a lot of first-time authors.

Then Dad had his stroke.  And a little over two weeks later he passed away.

Things have been in turmoil since then.  And the past few weeks especially.  I am now looking at some very drastic life changes which I had not had to consider anytime during the course of my life.  And on top of all of that, work on my book practically ground to a halt.

Then in late January, I was able to write again.  And a little more work on it was accomplished.  But then around mid-February my progress was halted.  By a very hard obstacle which I could not get through or get around.  I had come to a place where I was having to confront things in my history as a bipolar person that were extremely difficult to revisit.

It was like hitting a concrete wall.  I could bang my fists against it as hard and as often as I could, but it would not budge.  Would not be marred.

But then came this past month.  Two things happened.  The first was the trip I took to Florida to visit my family there: what I'd been plotting to do for years and years.  It was time away from the things that had burdened my heart since this past fall.  More than that, it refreshed my spirit.  I learned anew what it is to be alive... and to be thankful for that.  Sitting here trying to write all this time, barely leaving the house because of indifference to the world beyond, an aching emptiness in my soul the only persistent feeling I knew... none of that is healthy.  Driving to Florida was the longest overland journey I've ever taken alone.  Being welcomed by my family filled my heart with joy.  The sights that I saw there, the laughter and the fellowship... all of it renewed my strength and resolve.  When I came home over a week later, it was with a sense of life that I had not known for too long.  And I was determined to make the most of that and to never stop appreciating it.

The second thing came a few days after returning from Florida.  Some of you are familiar with Forcery: the film we made ten years ago (has it really been that long?!).  One of the brightest highlights of that project was Melody Hallman Daniel.  Her portrayal of Frannie Filks - the obsessed Star Wars fan holding George Lucas hostage - was hilarious, hypnotic... and at times downright scary.  It has become legendary in many quarters.  It was heavily featured in the award-winning documentary The People vs. George Lucas.  It was touched upon in a Time article and several other publications.  From the first time that we all came together, Melody has been a very dear and precious friend.  Following Dad's funeral service, she and Chad Austin and Ed Woody and myself came together for the first time in more than a decade.  I was really overwhelmed by the bond that we shared, that had come about from our little project together.

Well, Melody had been wanting to visit Reidsville again for quite some time, and we wound up making that happen this past week.  Not just Melody but also her service dog, Sasha.  I knew all along during the month or so before she came that her visit would help me overcome the block that had been in my mind.  She was my counselor, my sounding board, someone who reassured and held me accountable when I needed it.  It was her suggestion: that I should not be alone while I was going over some very difficult material that had accumulated during the last several years.  It was a good idea.  I'm thankful that it was Melody herself who was here when it came time to do that.

And hey, Melody was working on a book project also: translating into English a well-respected book by a Croatian author.  So we had two writing endeavors going on under the same roof, sometimes in the same room.  All while Sasha and my mini dachshund Tammy were playing with each other.

Florida renewed my spirit.  Melody's visit renewed my strength of purpose.  More than enough than I needed to get past that excruciatingly painful block that I was slamming myself against to no avail.

Today I began writing again for the first time since the end of February.  What has been an obstacle, is now something to at last be surmounted.  Is it still painful to read that material?  I'd be lying if I denied that it was.  But it doesn't have to haunt me as it has been.

The book is back on course.  And I think that this months-long struggle will prove to in the end to have been a good thing.

Just some thoughts from the writing process.  A little insight into the mind of a first-time book author.

Friday, May 01, 2015


Okay, it's not a "perfect" movie.  I for one would have appreciated more of Ultron's legendary Oedipus complex between himself and his "father" (who in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity is Tony Stark).  But those little problems aside, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a gob-smockingly powerhouse of a ride comin' at ya, and in this viewer's opinion it's more than the ideal movie to kick off a summer season.

So we caught it last night during its preview showings (it officially opens today).  "We" being longtime friend/artistic collaborator Melody Hallman Daniel who's been visiting here for the past week, her service dog Sasha, and Yours Truly.  After what seemed like a dozen trailers (alas! the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer was not one of them, and if it had been I was going to stand up wave my hands frantically while screaming "YES YES YES!!").  The film starts with our heroes taking out a Hydra installation in Eastern Europe, the prize possession of which is that pesky scepter that Loki has been using in previous entries of the franchise.  The team brings it back to Avengers headquarters, where Tony Stark asks for some time to examine it.  And so he begins to mess with things beyond even his understanding and which should not be tampered with.  Of course, this can't end well.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, I thought, was much like the story of Frankenstein.  About a new creature brought about either by design or accident that grows beyond the control of its creator.  In this case, said creature is determined to become God by wiping out all humanity, to say nothing of evolving itself.  And so it falls to the Avengers to stop him/it.

I thought that in some ways this was a stronger ensemble film than The Avengers was in 2012.  In this movie, everyone gets their chance to shine (especially Hawkeye, who has been holding out on some things from his teammates).  There is a greater sense of depth here among our heroes.  If only there had been more screen time to devote to that... but for a comic book film, it's still fine.

I enjoyed it immensely.  So did Melody.  And so did Sasha.  Yes, Sasha watched it and she communicated to Melody that she thought it was good, but also that she didn't like the bad guy.  Which from a dog's perspective means that she thought that Ultron (played with brilliant menace by James Spader) was a great bad guy.  Maybe Sasha should have her own blog reviewing movies: according to Melody she seems to have a great sense for this sort of thing.

Anyhoo, if you want a great popcorn flick to take your mind off of the even crazier stuff happening all around us, as well as a solid new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you'd be doing yourself a heaping disfavor if you didn't catch Avengers: Age of Ultron at least once during its theatrical run.  I give it two thumbs up.  Melody gives it two thumbs up.  Sasha gives it a high five and a tail wag.

By the way, it goes without saying with this sort of thing: don't leave the theater when the credits begin to roll.  There is one more surprise left that seems to be playing into the larger game that Marvel and Disney are taking this franchise.