The Salt Mines

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Dear Readers,

I can’t believe the first two weeks of the semester have already gone by. That means only fourteen more to go! It’s odd, really. Given how much pain I was in over the summer, I dreaded going back to school this fall, something I’ve never done before. As it turns out, I was so busy that first week to feel much of anything other than exhaustion. Then we got a three day weekend owing to the Labor Day Holiday. I woke up hurting that Saturday morning and have ever since. Still, being in front of a class does provide me with a needed distraction, so I’m making due as always.

So what’s on tap for the future? Well, my work in progress Molly’s Song got rather badly stalled for over a month. I’m starting to buckle down and work on it again though, albeit at a slow pace owing to my other commitments. Currently, I have written 19/32 chapters. I hope to have it finished by Christmas Break. I’m also working on something kind of fun, though to what end I have no idea. I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a radio adaptation of So Others May Live. I don’t know why, really, since we don’t really do radio dramas in the United States anymore. But who knows. Maybe BBC4 Radio might be interested since they still produce new radio programs.

In November, I’ll be giving a public lecture entitled A Terrible Beauty: Ireland in the Great War as part of a local library’s Friday lecture series. I previously gave a presentation about the Romanovs a couple of years back and over one hundred people showed up to listen to me beat my gums for an hour! It made me feel kind of important. Or maybe the people were so bored that day that hearing my lecture actually sounded like it might be fun. But Ireland and World War One are both subjects I enjoy talking about, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity. If any of you are in the Greater Houston area and would like to come meet/hear me, I’ll post specific details in another month or so.

I’m waiting for the final audio files of So Others May Live to approve and submit to Audible, so hopefully in the very near future the audiobook will be available for your perusal. It’s going to be really good. I can assure you of that fact. In the meantime, if you are looking for something to listen to, try the series Inspector McClevy, a radio drama set in Victorian Edinburgh. It ran for 12 seasons (though they call them series across the pond) and it is available on Audible in 2 series sets. I binge listened to it this summer. My wife listened to some of them with me, but refused to hear any more after one episode ended with the line “Never trust a red haired woman.”

If it seems that I am blogging infrequently during the semester, it is because I am. Given all my limitations, the long days I put in make it tough to come up with new content. That said, I will do my best to have a new post up every weekend. And, of course, any special announcements will garner their own post too.

Until next time, friends,

L.H.

Summer’s End

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Dear Readers,

I have reached the end of the summer, at least for me. I start the fall semester on Monday morning. Up at 0500 home around 1630. Five days a week. Two hour round trip commutes. Five face to face classes. One online class. Ten office hours (which I spend in vain waiting for a student to visit). Paperwork. Committees. Grading. You get the idea. Back to the salt mines it is! I enjoy it because it keeps me busy. I’ll blink and it’ll be Thanksgiving. I thought now that the summer is over, I might reflect on how I spent my time off.

Starting on the Monday after final exams in mid-May, I embarked on writing the first draft of Molly’s Song. Initially, it was to go to my editor in mid August. I was making tremendous progress writing 3K words a day every single day of the week. I hit the 2/3rds point and only had seven more days of writing left when I realized there was a fatal flaw. A flaw so fatal that all that I could do was ditch the entire draft and start over from scratch. I took one day off to refocus and then started anew. For a while, I made steady progress and was only a couple of weeks behind schedule. Then I hit a snag more due to exhaustion from so much writing. I took two weeks off and planned on getting back to work, but then my summer classes started.

I enjoy teaching summer courses at the college. Usually, I teach during Summer 2 so that I get the first half of the summer off, which is what I did this time around. Summer classes are always good and so are the students. It’s a bit more laid back an atmosphere than what you see during the fall/spring semesters. Some of the students are ours (by that I mean the community college where I work) and others are visiting students from universities who are taking advantage of our cheaper tuition and stellar faculty. I usually have some familiar faces in class who took a different course from me in the previous spring. This summer was no different. I thoroughly enjoyed my students and the courses and they all did very well.

I got very little writing done due to the teaching load during Summer 2, but I did manage to take Molly’s Song past the halfway point. I had to push my editorial deadline back to mid September. And then it happened. Mid-way through the summer course, I developed severe, crushing pain in my knees. Given my existing destroyed spine, any time something happens that affects how I walk (like damaged knees), it sets of a cascade of pain that eventually makes my back lock up. It was bad. Very bad. To make matters worse, the mental demons I fight grow stronger when my pain does. On the day of final exams for the summer, I broke my pinkie finger. For the next week, I moved as though I was in a fog. I completely shut down and I didn’t so much as say a word to my wife despite sharing a small (900 sq foot) house with her. She understands and so when I get like that, she gives me my space.

I managed to get out for our bi-annual before the semester lunch with my best friend (really more like a brother) AJP. He always manages to make me feel better. Usually by sending cat pictures. The following Monday, I went to a knee doctor who prescribed some anti-inflammatory creams for knees which does seem to be working a little. Tuesday was an in-service day at the college, so I spent the morning listening to some presentations. One was on positive professional and personal pathways which I badly needed to hear. I determined to take that to heart and slowly the cloud over me began to dissipate. Wednesday we had division and department meetings which are always fun because we have some good people in both. Thursday was a work day and so I prepared my stuff for the upcoming semester. Friday was a two hour drive down to the main campus for convocation followed by a two hour drive home, with a pit stop by my office along the way. Which brings us to today.

I’m still in a lot of pain (usually my pain levels range from moderate to murderous and I’ve been on the murderous end of the spectrum for several weeks now). Each night I have to encase myself in ice. I liberally apply my prescription cream in the morning and again in the evening. I have some medications too which I take at night. It takes the edge off, but nothing more. That’s okay because the pain reminds me that I’m still alive. I’m trying to stay focused on the good and not the bad. I’ve dove into a huge Turkish historical drama called The Magnificent Century on YouTube in the evenings. (It has a hot redhead in it). Of course, I have Anastasia to help me in the evenings. My wife Elizabeth also helps. I will refrain from answering if I love my cat or my wife more.

My spring semester was very difficult since I fractured another vertebrae right before the semester started, though it was six weeks before I finally found out why I was in so much pain. This time around, it is my knees and back. It seems like there is always something before each semester starts. However, I’m going to try my best to keep a positive outlook. I’ll try to get through one day at a time. Given how busy the long semesters are, I probably won’t finish Molly’s Song until Christmas Break and will send it to the editor after the new year. I’m probably looking at a release in the Fall of 2020 rather than in the Spring of 2020 like I originally intended. That’s okay though because it is going to be a damn good book. Better even than So Others May Live.

Oh, and the Red Sox have played like chicken fried crap this summer too, which also sucks. No World Series for them this year. Ah, but football season is here! My Saints have a preseason game tonight. High school football (my true love) starts next week. And also tonight, we have college football start. Football….how I’ve missed thee! My wife is a Kansas City Chiefs fan. So y’all pray for me.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to meeting my new students on Monday and Tuesday, seeing some of my former students, and hanging out with my co-workers who are seriously kick ass people to be around. They, and my students, make going to work fun. I don’t think of teaching as a job any more than I think of my fire service career as a job. They say if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, and I haven’t worked since I was a kid sacking groceries at the Krogers.

So for all you teachers or students following me, I’d just like to say “May your classes be good or your detentions short.” Stay tuned for updates concerning the audiobook version of So Others May Live. In the meantime, for those of you who like to listen to novels, the greatest novel ever written, which I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog, Quiet Flows the Don, is finally being released on Audible! I think it is the abridged version, based on the length, but it will be out on Monday and you can find it here. Some Sholokhov is better than no Sholokhov! You better believe I’ve already pre-ordered it.

If you’d like more regular updates than you’ll probably get on my blog over the next couple of months, follow me on Instagram. Or Facebook. Though I am also on The Twitter, I really don’t use it to post very much. Instagram and Facebook are your best bet. Also, if you’ve read So Others May Live, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d consider leaving an honest review on Amazon. Even if you hated it, that’s fine too. Tell me why. I’m a big boy. It won’t hurt my feelings. Should you enjoy podcasts, I urge you to check out All Bad Things. It’s a podcast about disasters.

Until next time, take care of yourself. And each other.

L.H.

The Wildest Ride Yet: My 2018 in Review

Dear Readers,

New Year’s Eve is the time to reflect on the previous year and, in my case, it was perhaps the most momentous year of my life. If not that, it was certainly the biggest roller coaster that I’ve ever ridden thus far in my 40 years. I’ve struggled with trying to find a way to sum it all up, but I think I’ve gotten it down. So without further delay, here is my 2018 Year in Review, presented in word and picture.

1

The morning after surgery. One word. Pain.

If you read my 2017 Year in Review post, I referenced having been hospitalized on Thanksgiving with an obstruction in my small intestine. As they did not know the exact cause, they could not say with certainty if it would return. Well, as you can probably guess, it did. In mid-January I did the usual in-service week stuff for the college before starting my temporary full time professor job. It was the usual meetings, professional development, and convocation. The weekend before classes started was a long one, with Monday being the MLK Day holiday. Everything was set for me to start classes on Tuesday. Sunday, however, I began to feel the familiar pressure/pain in my stomach. I gave it some time, thinking it might ease up on its own. It didn’t. By 2 a.m. I was vomiting and so back to the ER we went. The diagnosis didn’t take long. It was another obstruction. Owing to a flu outbreak, I was unable to get into a room until Wednesday morning and spent the time in the ER instead. On Wednesday, the surgeon saw me and said I was booked for a rather large operation on Tuesday. I spent the time in between roaming the halls with my IV pole and visiting with the nurses. I was unable to eat anything, but that had me on TPN through a Picc line, but I still dropped a massive amount of weight, bad because I’d already lost a lot due to the issue in November. The surgery turned out to be a shorter operation than they thought it would be. I had a few complications post op, and so it was quite a while before I got to go home. On the day of my discharge, I had been in the hospital for nineteen days.

2

My first “meal”. Forgive the skeletal appearance. This is what happens when you drop fifty pounds due to stomach/intestinal issues!

I started to work officially on Monday, February 5th. I think my students were surprised to see that I actually existed. I owe a big thank you to my colleagues who covered my classes for me until I was able to healthy enough to come back. Throughout the month of February, I never felt entirely “right”. My stomach still bothered me from time to time. I was still dropping weight. Finally, by February 28th, I felt more normal than I’d felt since November. So imagine my surprise on March 2nd, our tenth wedding anniversary, when I ended up in the ER with, you guessed it, another bowel obstruction. I was only there for a week this time, but I was told that I needed the big surgery now. My surgeon agreed to let me try and make it until the semester ended. Also, while in the hospital I had a phone interview for a permanent position at the school and the week after I got out, an in-person interview. Luckily, I got the job.

5

Professing…..1940s style!

The rest of the spring passed in a blur. I spent the time teaching, watching TV in bed at night, and editing my novel which I completed in 2018 in preparation for sending it to a professional editor in August. Before I knew it, final exams were over and it was time for the surgery. They weren’t lying when they said it would be a big operation! I was in the hospital for 8 or 9 days afterwards, but did okay. I was up walking around as fast as they’d let me, though it hurt like hell as I had a six and a half inch incision in my abdomen. I weighed 130 pounds upon discharge. Keep in mind, I’m 6’4 and weighed 185 before this all started back in November! Thankfully, as I’m writing this, I’m back up to 160, though gaining weight has proven to be difficult. All these months later, I feel decent. I’m sincerely hoping I never half to go through anything like this again. But only time will tell.

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Your’s truly on TV.

Enough of the health stuff! In June I visited the Metropolitan Research Center in Houston to delve into the archives they had on the Gulf Hotel Fire of 1943 which killed 55 people in Houston. I was able to successfully track down the mass grave where the unidentified victims were buried, and set out to see if I could get funds to place a marker. A reporter from KPRC was kind enough to air a story on it close to the anniversary of the fire. I was able to get a little support, but what I’m doing now is exploring the process for getting a historical marker on the site of the grave. That will be an easier and cheaper option.

In August, my book went off to the editor for a developmental edit. I spent much of the fall semester working on the revisions she suggested. It took a bit of time and a few more drafts, but in December I sent it back in for the copy edit. Those revisions have been done and round two of the copy edit is scheduled for Jan. 7th. Once that is complete, it will be submission time. I have a small number of indie presses to query and if I strike out, then I’ll go the self-publishing route. Be warned. I’m planning to throw one hell of a 40s themed launch party when the book hits the market, whenever that might be. (Sooner if I do it, longer if a press does it.) Also on the writing front, I’m halfway through my second novel which is set during the Civil War. That one should be ready to publish by early 2020.

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Anastasia provided editorial “assistance.” 

As a Red Sox fan, I would be remiss if I did not mention their having won the World Series. It was an exciting summer for sure. On those long summer evenings, my wife and I always sit outside and listen to a game on the radio. Thankfully with SiriusXM and their handy app, I can get the Red Sox home radio feed on my phone or in the car. That’s useful when you live in Texas and not Massachusetts. Given the tendency of the Sox bullpen to blow saves, my sense of delight at winning the Series was only exceeded by my sense of shock. The New Orleans Saints are having a banner year too. So let’s hope at this time next year, I can talk about how they won the Super Bowl.

7

Votes for women!

When the new semester started in late August, I got to teach an in-service session on how to communicate emergency procedures to your students. I think it went pretty well. Or at least I didn’t get any feedback that said “you suck”, so I’ll take that as a win. It was kind of an odd semester, and I never really felt like I’d hit my stride. I’m not sure why, exactly, but that is how it was. In December, my wife and I attended Dickens on the Strand in Galveston with a friend of mine. We drank beer, got our picture with a suffragette, ate fried food, and had to have my wife drive us home after having too much fun. At the end of the semester, I got a “present” of sorts from the college. A new office!

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An office with a view.

My back injuries still hurt, and always will. A little more with each passing year, but such is life. I would say I’ve gotten used to it, but there really isn’t a way to get used to living with severe pain, though you can learn to cope with it. So I’ll still enjoy my New Year’s Eve brandy and cigar on my front porch as I ponder the past year and wonder about what the upcoming year will hold. I’ll spend New Year’s Eve and Day watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy Channel, which has become a tradition since I no longer have to work holidays.

9

A brandy, a cigar, and a dream of the future.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. My wild and crazy year. I don’t do the whole “New year, new me” thing. In 2019, I’ll be the same profane, sarcastic prankster that I’ve always been. I do have some goals, though. Fortunately, they are all obtainable. They are as follows:

  1. Publish So Others May Live
  2. Finish Book Two (as of yet, untitled)
  3. Edit Book Two

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy New Year.

L.H.

Another Semester in the Books

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Dear Readers,

Another semester has come to a close. I haven’t had much time to blog over the past few months. I taught seven courses this semester (my contracted 5 and 2 overloads). On top of that, there were meetings, office hours, and working on revised drafts of my novel (now in the copy editing phase).  Now I have a month off, and I plan to spend it playing Red Dead Redemption 2 and wrapping up my novel copy edits. I think I can manage to do both.

In other news, I moved into a new office at the college this week. When I got hired full time, there wasn’t any available office space, and so I had a cubicle. It was a nice, big cubicle, and I had it all to myself. But when they told me that I could have a real office after a professor retired, well, I leapt at the chance. I got set up yesterday, and now it resembles a museum of fire helmets. Some mine and some antique ones. Students don’t generally make use of office hours though, and I spend ten hours a week staring at the phone waiting for it to ring, or gazing at the door waiting for a student to appear. When neither happens, I wander around the office suite and pester my co-workers.

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A couple of weeks ago, we (myself, my wife, and a friend) went down to Galveston for Dickens on the Strand, an annual Victorian Era festival. My friend and I donned Yankee blue for the trip. We had a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that my wife had to drive us home! There were lots of people dressed in Victorian clothing. We even got our picture taken with a suffragette! The food was great, as was the beer. Next year, I’m planning on going as a 19th Century firefighter.

Apologies for the short post, but the Old West beckons. I’ll see you on the trail, pilgrim. And look forward to another post within a few days about my favorite Western fiction.

L.H.

As the World Turns….

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Dear Readers,

It’s been a rough semester so far, but not necessarily in a bad way. I’m teaching six courses (five in person and one online). With a two hour roundtrip commute and office hours, meetings, etc, I’m pretty well wiped out when I get home. My evenings are spent laying on ice packs which keeps my back pain somewhat tolerable and watching TV with my cat, Anastasia. She prefers shows with cowboys and horses.

I’m also working on the edits to my novel So Others May Live. I got my content edits back a month or so ago and I’ve been going through them. I’m almost done with my first pass through, then I’ll shelve it for a month. After that, I’ll give it a top to bottom read through and make a few more changes. It goes back to the editor for the copyedit in late November. I’ll spend Christmas making corrections, then send it back for the final round in early January. Hopefully it’ll be ready to submit to a few small presses that I’ve identified which specialize in historical fiction. If I strike out there, then plan B will be to self publish.

The book is getting closer and closer to being a reality. Someday, perhaps sooner than you think, it’ll be ready for perusal. One things I’ve learned is that finishing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. I think by the end of the process it will have gone through seven or eight drafts.

L.H.

A Day In My Life

Dear Readers,

This post is going to be a little different than my standard fare. Over the past several years, I have never taken the time to write about the struggle that I face on a daily basis just to get by. So here is my medical odyssey in narrative form, and the impact it has on me now.

I suffered a serious spinal injury in December of 2012. For the next six months, I did injections, physical therapy, and even saw a chiropractor for a few months (he made things worse). Finally, I had to acknowledge the writing on the wall and retired from the fire service in August of 2013. I immediately started the fall semester teaching part time for three different colleges. I’d been teaching for one of them part time since 2004, so it made sense to keep on with it and it gave me something to do.

Over the next year or so, I continued with injections and began seeing a pain management specialist since I am not a good candidate for surgery given the extent of the damage. Going into the spring of 2015, I began to suffer some strange joint pains, extreme dry mouth, extreme fatigue, and I stopped being able to swallow solid food without choking. It took around six months, but I was diagnosed with something called Sjogren’s Syndrome. It is a somewhat rare auto-immune disease that typically only effects menopausal women, so as a male who was in my 30s at the time, I definitely didn’t fit the demographic. It isn’t curable and “treatment” is really only to help manage the symptoms.

I kept plugging away at life, despite everything. Then, in the late summer of 2016, I started getting a lot of pain/discomfort in one of my unmentionables. My doctor sent me to the Urgent Care place to get an ultrasound. They told me I had epididymitis even though it was not shown on the ultrasound. Anti-biotics didn’t make it any better, so my GP sent me off to see a surgeon. A CT scan indicated a hernia was the cause of the problem. So I had a bi-lateral laparoscopic inguinal hernia repair done in November of 2016. Recovery wasn’t too bad. I was able to walk a third of a mile the afternoon of the surgery. After a month, the surgeon released me back to normal activities.

My back injuries continued to give me problems, as they always do, and I remained unable to eat solid foods, but I was still trucking along. In November of 2017, I was offered a temporary full time position at a community college, which I accepted. The next week, my latest medical nightmare reared its head. On Thanksgiving Day, I developed severe stomach cramps which, as the day progressed, turned into projectile vomiting. Thinking I just had a stomach bug, I went to the ER expecting to be sent home soon. Wrong. A CT scan showed I had a bowel obstruction in my small intestine. The stuck an NG tube down my nose and drained two liters of backed up fluid from inside my stomach. They let me go home six days later as the blockage cleared, but without knowing what caused it, we didn’t know if it would come back or not.

As you can imagine, it did. The night before the start of classes at my new temporary full time job, the symptoms returned. Another ER trip showed it was another obstruction. I stayed there for 18 days and had a surgery around day 8. The recovery in the hospital was tough, but I made it out of bed to walk around as much as they’d let me.  They kept me pretty comfortable and weren’t stingy with the morphine. But I felt sick as a dog, even after the surgery. I got home on a Friday and started my semester on Monday. Throughout the month of February, I dealt with bouts of nausea and bloating which I assumed was just my insides calming back down. Finally at the end of that month, I felt almost normal again.

Three days later, on our tenth wedding anniversary, another obstruction developed and I spent another week in the hospital. I needed another surgery, but the doctor said I could try and wait until the end of the semester. While in the hospital, I had a phone interview for the permanent position at the college where I was teaching temporarily. Later I had an in person interview and ended up getting the job. The rest of the semester passed slowly with me panicking every time I had the slightest twinge in my stomach, but I made it to the surgery date.

The second surgery went fairly well. I was discharged after 8 days and went home to recover. It was slow, but steady. I felt well enough to teach a couple of classes during the Summer 2 semester. But I still worry that the obstruction will return one day. There’s really nothing I can do to prevent it, other than just stay as occupied as I can. As the summer drew to a close, my back injuries decided to flare up in a big way, which brings me to where I am today. So here is what a day in my life is like:

When I first wake up, for a brief, flitting moment, it’s as if I am the old me, before disease and pain ravaged my body. For a second or two, I feel no pain. Then it slowly starts to settle in and I’m reminded of what I’ve become. I log roll out of bed and stand up for a few minutes to let everything settle and to figure out where the pain will be coming from that day. I shuffle into the kitchen and start a cup of coffee while I eat a small bowl of cereal. Since my bowel surgeries, I can eat solid foods again, albeit in moderation. With breakfast finished, I take a muscle relaxer, grab my coffee, and shuffle outside where I sit and drink my cup for 30 minutes or so while I let my medication kick in.

If it is during the week, I then go inside, slowly get dressed, and drink my liquid vitamin mixed with orange juice. I pack a lunch, walk outside, get the heating pad adjusted in the car seat, and then set out for work. I have a 50 minute commute which my back does not allow me to do all at once, so I have to stop at the halfway point and get out and walk around. Once I make it to work, I’m usually okay as being in the classroom is a nice distraction and so I don’t notice the pain as much. But it hits me like a sledgehammer as soon as my last class gets out. I have to sit down in the classroom for ten minutes or so and collect my breath, steadying myself to make the hike out to the car and the drive home. Just like during the morning commute, I have to stop halfway to get out and stretch.

When I get home, I have just enough energy left to walk to the front porch where I have to sit and rest for twenty minutes or so before I go inside. I then eat my supper, check my emails, and do any other tasks that need to be done before I get in bed. At precisely 6pm, I take a hot shower for around 20 minutes or so to try and ease the stiffness before I settle in. At six thirty, I take another muscle relaxer and get in bed. I spend the next hour and forty minutes rotating ice packs (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) while I watch TV with Anastasia, my cat, and read a book. At 8pm, I get up and take my pain medication (which I only take at night) and then sit on the front porch and talk to my wife while we listen to a baseball game on the radio for about an hour. At 9pm, I return to bed and repeat the icing until 10:30. I turn out the light at 10:30 and try to go to sleep. Some nights I sleep very well. Other nights I toss and turn until my alarm goes off at 6:15 and I start the routine all over again.

I no longer remember what it was like to not live in constant pain. I don’t remember what it was like to be able to jump in the car and go do whatever I wanted to do, without worrying about the drive or if it might cause me more pain. It has robbed me of my career. It has placed occasional strain on my marriage. It has taken away my ability to be “normal”. I’ve lost so much that I can’t even begin to list it all out. But at the same time, it has made me a stronger person since I have to deal with it on a second to second basis. It has helped me find happiness in a second career. And it has taught me to take whatever joy I can get out of the small things in life.

I finally had time to write a novel. I’ve gotten to work with some great colleagues at the colleges where I’ve taught. I’m even going to be on TV here in a couple of weeks. I don’t think any of this would be possible were it not for my injuries and accompanying health woes. Yes, life for me is a constant battle against pain and my own body, but it is a battle that I am, for the moment, winning. (Or at least, I’m not losing.) Everything happens for a reason, and this is my cross to bear. I may not be thriving, but I am surviving. One day I might know the reason why all this has come to pass, but I no longer question why it happened anymore. It took a few years, but I made my peace with it. My only goal now is to live as full a life as I can with the limitations I have on me. I can look back on my public safety career and say I have no regrets and I’d do it all over again, even knowing how it would turn out, and there’s a certain victory in that.

L.H.

Teaching US History Through Disasters

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My favorite restaurant after Hurricane Ike. I took my wife here on our first date and later proposed to her here. They were closed for six months after the storm.

Dear Readers,

Yet another long delay in between posts. I just finished teaching two five week summer classes this past week which took up quite a bit of my time. Also, my novel So Others May Live has gone to the editor. I realized today that I had not written a teaching related post in a long time. As it so happens, I’ve been working on creating a thematic US History course and so I decided to pen a few lines, or rather type a few lines, about it.

I’m no stranger to emergencies. With all the time I spent in public safety responding to calls as a firefighter/EMT and later as a police officer and arson investigator, I’ve built up quite the emergency resume. Fires, car accidents, hurricanes, and various and sundry medical calls still haunt the recesses of my brain. As a student and later professor of history, I’m also well aware of the role disasters have played in the American past. From the Triangle Fire to the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire to the Station Nightclub and from the 1900 Storm to the Tri-State Tornado to the Texas City Disaster, I can still recall all the photographs or videos I’ve looked at over the years. I’ve seen hurricane damage and felt the winds firsthand. Hurricane Ike was my 13th Storm to live through or work during and I experienced the eye from the front seat of my city issued SUV. We are coming up on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey which caused widespread flooding in my area, though I escaped without any significant damage.

Disasters can serve as great catalysts for change. When one considers the historical significance of disasters, we can learn social history, the history of science/technology, study human behavior, and draw lessons for the future. Since I teach at a community college, I only teach US History Survey courses. 1301 is US History to 1877 and 1302 is US History Since 1877. What I’m looking at doing is creating a thematic 1302 class where I still cover the usual items, but view it through the lens of disasters, both natural and manmade.

The first issue to tackle was which disasters. Obviously there are plenty to choose from, but I wanted a cross section of different types of disasters which struck at different times but with a focus on disasters close to home (Southeast Texas). After much internal debate, I came up with the following list:

  1. 1900 Galveston Hurricane (Galveston, TX)
  2. 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (NYC)
  3. 1935 Labor Day Hurricane (FL)
  4. 1947 Texas City Disaster (Texas City, TX)

I’m including two hurricanes since they are the most frequent disaster in our area. Plus, the Labor Day Hurricane ties in with my existing discussion of the Depression and the Bonus Army. I wanted to stay away from more modern disasters (Katrina, Ike, Harvey, etc) and I also wanted to focus on non-intentional acts (ie: not terrorism). We will discuss these disasters with an towards how they illustrate the history of science at the time, technology, race, class, labor relations, etc. I cannot assign a book on each one of these disasters, so instead I will have my students read a few articles about each one, there will be a lecture on the topic (I already do one on the Triangle Fire), and finally a discussion following the lecture. To tie it all together, I’m probably going to have them give a presentation on a disaster not covered here (as a group). I may instead assign a paper in which they trace a common theme among all four of these disasters. I’m still a bit on the fence about that one.

Have a disaster free day!

L.H.