Mi Vida Loca: My 2019 Year in Review

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Well, Dear Readers, it’s time for my third annual Year in Review blog post. (If you are new, you can check out 2017 here and 2018 here).  Time has sailed by since I wrote the last one on New Year’s Eve, 2018. Yet here we are. I called the 2018 post “The Wildest Ride Yet” given my long hospital stays and surgeries in the winter/spring of the year. Buckle up though, because 2019 was just as crazy. We’ll tackle it in chronological order, as that way makes the most sense to me.

In my 2018 post, I ended by discussing the Red Sox winning the World Series and opining about my Saints chances of winning the Super Bowl. Well, as we all know, they were derailed by the worst no call in NFL history (as if we need any more proof that the NFL is rigged….). But I digress.

The year started out with a very big bang, one that I could have really done without. On January 7th, I fell while in the bathroom. Landing in a seated position (and keep in mind, I’m 6’4 so that’s a long way down), I immediately knew something was wrong. The next morning, when I woke up, I was in excruciating pain (worse that I normally am from my pre-existing back injuries). I was afraid I’d broken my tailbone. After about a week, I went to see my GP. He did some x-rays of my tailbone and my lumbar spine and said everything was fine. But the pain didn’t go away.

The same week, I had to teach a professional development course at the college using my cane and the wall for balance. People said it went well, but I was hurting too bad to know if they were bullshitting me or not. And then the semester started. I had a great schedule, and was able to actually use the office I moved into in December as I started teaching two days a week at the campus where my office is. (My college has three campuses). But Jesus Christ and General Jackson! I was hurting bad.

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Finally in February I broke down and went to see my orthopedic surgeon. He ordered an MRI and told me that when I fell, I’d suffered a compression fracture of the L3 Vertebrae. (My other problems are at the L4/5 and L5/S1 levels). There wasn’t much I could do other than let it heal on its own. I did have a series of injections that helped some, and by late March, most of the pain had returned to normal. At that time, I was also serving on a hiring committee and so I had a lot of very long/late days at the college. But I soldiered on.

While all this was going on, I was also working on publication of my novel. I finished my final round with my editor in mid-January. Then I set the book aside to focus on school stuff for most of February. In March, I sent it out for formatting and cover design. I ended up with a kick ass cover, that’s for sure. On March 29th, the book hit the virtual storefront as an eBook, paperback, and hard cover. It’s a strange feeling to hold your book in your hands for the first time. Rather like holding your firstborn child. This was the culmination of 18 months of work and the help/support of lots of people, including you, Dear Reader.

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The semester ended without much fanfare and, unlike 2018, I didn’t have to have a major surgery as soon as it was over. I had been kicking around an idea for a second novel but wasn’t sure about it. And then I found my inspiration. While looking at some photographs taken of prostitutes in the 19th Century, I came across one in particular that really grabbed me. As I gazed at the young woman in the photo, the lyrics to Runaway Train by Soul Asylum came to mind which is odd because that was never a favorite song of mine.

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Now, initially, the book was supposed to be quite different than how it turned out. The original manuscript followed two viewpoints. I knocked out a steady 3K words (one chapter) a day and soon I had 2/3rds of the book written. Then it hit me! In that form, the book would have an unworkable conclusion. I decided to ditch one of the viewpoints and focus on the Irish immigrant turned prostitute instead. This necessitated a complete re-writing, as in starting over from scratch, but from the ashes of the initial draft, Molly’s Song emerged.

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My happy place.

I made good progress at first, but eventually I got sidetracked and, to be honest, a bit exhausted from it. At this point I had written, between both drafts, around 140,000 words over the course of consecutive days. I decided to take a couple of days off to recharge my batteries, but two days turned into a week and then a week and a half. Before I knew it, I’d hit mid-July and it was time to teach my Summer 2 courses. So Molly’s Song went on the shelf for what I thought would be a short time, but it turned out to be a lot longer that that.

My Summer 2 schedule wasn’t bad. I taught a 1301 course followed immediately by a 1302 course. I was in class from basically 10:30 to 2:30 Monday through Friday. I’d leave the house around 9 and get home around 3:30. In a way, it was a good warm up for the fall semester. Summer classes always seem to be good as they tend to be a bit smaller and have motivated students. I think it was in the second week of class when tragedy struck the family. My cousin Marty died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. My wife and I made the drive home for the funeral which was standing room only, a testament to the impact he had on the lives of all who knew him. While there, I stopped by a visited the grave of my grandparents and left a copy of my book for them. This was the first time I’d visited the grave since we buried my grandfather in 2009. A few days after we got back home, I got word that a friend from back in the day had also passed.

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Rest easy, Marty.

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The copy I left for my grandparents

Indeed, the hits just wouldn’t stop coming. I still remember the day quite clearly. It was Sunday, July 28th around 4:30 pm. I was sitting on my front porch, as I like to do for short periods in the summer. I felt a slight twinge in my left knee while sitting down. When I went to stand up, my entire left leg had locked up and I could barely walk. The problem, Dear Readers, is that any change in my walk from stiff knees, etc, puts me in excruciating pain as it throws off my balance, thus affecting my spinal injuries. Difficult doesn’t begin to describe the rest of my summer as I had to hobble to class and back home again. To top it off, on August 14th, my 41st birthday, I broke my pinkie (again) when I tried to grab something that was falling off the podium in the classroom in the middle of a final exam. I finally got in to see a knee specialist on August 19th and, though I wasn’t overly impressed with having to wait two hours for a ten minute consultation, I did get a prescription for a steroid cream and also a lidocaine cream that I use, though the knee pain itself never truly went away.

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This is what I look like on a bad day

There was some good news this summer though. So Others May Live won the War & Military category of the American Fiction Awards and is currently shortlisted for the Goethe Award in post 1750s Historical Fiction. In addition, the audiobook was completed in the fall and should be available for purchase sometime after the first of the year. So that’s something to look forward to, at least. There are two more awards that it is being considered but they won’t be decided until June of 2020, by which time I’ll be working on my third book.

Now we arrive at the start of the fall semester. In Service week passed with little fanfare. I attended two professional development sessions, both good. The department/division meetings went as they always do, as did convocation. Normally, I am excited to start each new semester, but this one I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. Since mid-summer, my own mind had spiraled into a black whole of nightmares, despair, and general darkness. That coupled with how much pain I was in signaled what I knew would be a rough semester. And it was. For the first time in my post-injury teaching career, I had to leave work early due to pain (on two different occasions). Given that I suffer in total silence every second of every day, for me to admit defeat and go home should tell you how rough it has been. There were several times over the ensuing months where I seriously doubted my ability to make it to the end of the semester physically.

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Two things kept me going. My students, as they always do, and my co-workers. From keeping me distracted by talking to me about anything but pain to asking how I was feeling when I looked particularly rough, I made it through the semester because of them. I also decided, for the first time in five years, that given my mental state I needed to seek counseling again, which I did. I wish I could say that my pain has diminished, but it hasn’t. I am having a few good days every now and then, which is excellent, but my good days now are what my bad days used to be, and that makes me fear the future.

My wife asked me if I would mind if she went to visit her sister over Thanksgiving, as that would leave me home alone for several days. I said no, as I had plans of my own. What I had, Dear Readers, was a date with Molly. For four consecutive days (11/27-11/30), I did nothing but write. As soon as I woke up, I’d gulp down some cereal and a cup of coffee before hurrying over to the computer. Other than three breaks during the day, I’d write up until it was time to get in bed. Over that four day period, including Thanksgiving Day, I did not leave the house, did not shave, and did not shower. I did nothing but write (while suffering severe back spasms and knee pain, of course). Finally, that Saturday, I emerged with a complete manuscript. I’m not sure exactly how much I wrote, but it was something like 24K words. Obviously, there is still editing and revisions to be done. I have a lot of work to do before it goes off to my editor in March for a content edit with a copyedit to follow in July, but it should be published mid to late fall of 2020. Originally I was hoping to have it out in the Spring of 2020, but alas, life had other plans.

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The completed draft

On November 29th, I received the audio proofs for So Others May Live. I binge listened to it (with Anastasia’s help, of course) and it is presently going through Audible quality control and should be out shortly after the first of the year. Even if you’ve read the book, I urge you to give it a listen too, as it is almost like listening to a radio drama given the talents of the narrator. When Christmas Break arrived, I had my regularly scheduled Sharpe’s Rifles marathon at the very beginning, and then turned to binge watching episodes of Cold Case on my wife’s Roku stick. (The series isn’t available in any other format owing to royalty issues connected with the music). And, of course, New Year’s Eve and Day will be spent in my annual Twilight Zone marathon courtesy of the SyFy channel. It’s been my tradition since I no longer have to work holidays. Also, over my break, I taught myself how to edit videos so that I could make one for my wife for Christmas. It tells the story of our relationship. You can find it here. Naturally, I also had to make one for my history crush as well. That video can be found here.

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So what’s on tap for 2020? Well, I don’t much care for the “new year, new me” crap. I’m not setting any personal goals, as each year brings me more complications from my injuries and more health issues. That isn’t going to change. However, I do like to set professional goals. I have three for 2020.

  1. Edit Molly’s Song
  2. Publish Molly’s Song
  3. Write the first draft of Dark Raven

And, Dear Readers, if you truly want to start the New Year off the right way, start watching the 1970 film Waterloo at exactly 10:08:45 (pm) on New Year’s Eve and as the clock strikes midnight, Wellington will say, “Now Maitland! Now’s your time!”

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Anastasia still keeps watch over me

And now, as the year draws to a close and a new one begins, I would just like to say thank you to all of my friends, both old and new, and my readers. I wish all of you the best in 2020. I don’t know how many years that I have left, but I think that 2019 will go down as being one of the most momentous of my life.

L.H.