The Annual Thank-A-Thon

roast turkey

CC 2010 M. Rehemtulla

It’s that time of year again, the time when relatives we only see at weddings and funerals cram themselves into our homes to argue about politics and religion while some of us slave over a meal that will leave the kitchen trashed, everyone angry at each other, and most of us bored during some dull NFL games in the afternoon. Let us be thankful.

Actually, I am thankful. Life is pretty good for us here at Chateau Nita, and we know that it’s not for many people. We’re relatively healthy, have decent jobs, and our debt is manageable and justifiable: Mortgage, two modest cars, not a lot of consumer debt.

But we’re also well aware that many are struggling. Some problems are of people’s own making. Some are beyond people’s control. So while AJ and I dine on a delicious turkey breast made by Nita, we’re all going to think a little bit about those not doing as well and count our blessings.

For starters…

Three Stooges GraduatedNita and I are middle aged college students. Yes, it took us both twenty years and two marriages to get around to starting our freshman years in college. But off we went. These days, many question whether college is worth it. A lot of schools are for-profit and not really worth the paper they print their degrees on. But Nita goes to the University of Cincinnati. I followed an associates degree in 2012 with a business degree from Wilmington College. We both finish up this summer. Was it wise getting a degree this late in life when we should be working towards retirement? Let’s put it this way. It’s a lot easier to be a hard-to-hire senior if you have a degree than it is if you don’t. And it’s just smart to know how business operates before you actually start a business. Yanno?

Billy Crystal typing

Source: Orion Pictures

I’m thankful I have the opportunity to write. There was a time not so long ago when I planned to hang it up. Holland Bay was an unreadable mess. My agent at the time did not seem engaged. And I’ll be honest. Being unemployed did not exactly foster creativity. So I fired my agent, posted a bunch of “I quit” messages, and planned to worry more about finding work. But a funny thing happens when you decide you don’t hafta. You start to wanna. Holland Bay kept calling my name. A science fiction idea kept calling my name. I went from the guy on the left to becoming a freak of writing nature like Dean Wesley Smith. As all this was happening, the whole indie-vs.-trad argument exploded. What I learned is it doesn’t matter. I do both. Get over it.

Jennette Marie Powell

Source: jenpowell.com

But I would not have been able to start writing again if it had not been for some supportive friends. I want to give a shout out to two of them here. The first is Jennette Marie Powell, aka Li’l Sis. Jen and I go way back, like longer than we’ll admit to. (There was no Internet worth mentioning back then outside of the movies.) Jennette was the reason Northcoast Shakedown was written. She became a writer in the late nineties, showed me her first effort, and asked, “So where’s yours?”

Jim goes home, digs out 14-page outline and proceeds to start writing. If she had not said that to me, I wouldn’t have written that novel in time to tell my mother I finished a real novel. I finished Northcoast two months before she died. The revisions took a long time, but that was all part of the process.

Brian ThorntonAnother writer who kept me from throwing it all away is my fellow Sleuthsayer Brian Thornton. I met Brian in my early days online in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, a group we’ve both since left. My first in-person meeting with him was in the lobby of the Bouchercon hotel in Toronto in 2004. I was coming up the escalator when a voice said, “Jim?” I was then treated to a Cuban cigar because, this being Canada, they were legal. (Barry, Raul, you need to fix that problem in the US. Come on, guys. Cuba is America’s fourth largest trading partner. Who are you trying to kid anymore?) In the dozen or so years I’ve known him, we’ve both gotten married, both had novels that took years to write, and both kicked each other’s asses when we wanted to stop and throw it all away. I’m currently one of two people red inking his historical novel Handmaiden of Fate. (The other is actually the lady editing Gypsy’s Kiss.) Brian helped me pound Holland Bay into shape and made introductions to an agent whom I hope will be my agent. It’s been a fruitful friendship.

Will code for food

CC 2006 Patrick de Laive

I am thankful I work. Not only that, but as of this summer, I work strictly in development. The bad ol’ days of desktop support are over. What’s the next step? I don’t know yet. I just found a parking spot I like, and I have yet to attend my first company Christmas party. But now I’m doing more than just helping the little old lady in customer service find her Start button. We have other people who do that. I spend my days writing queries and hieroglyphics that have curly braces and make things happen. It’s e-commerce, which means that, as soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to have to log into work to clear off some of the production errors from overnight. Well, someone has to.

Nita

The reason I get up in the morning

Finally, I am thankful for the little miracle to the left here.I met and married Nita in a whirlwind romance in 2008. We’ve been through a lot together since then. It’ll be seven years this coming June. She is my partner and my best friend and the great love of my life.

Because of Nita, I got to experience fatherhood as AJ was 13 when I married his mother. AJ spoils us as parents. We have nieces and nephews whom we love like our own children, but they would also challenge us as parents. AJ is equal parts man-child and very mature and in all the right ways. It’s been wonderful to watch him become an adult. He’s now 20, and we get a little jealous when he goes out and does all the things our parents warned us about, mainly because we don’t have the stamina to stay out that late anymore.

Yes, I’m thankful I have a family. Or rather, they have me. I could list a lot of regrets I have about the first two thirds of my life but why? That last act is shaping up to be pretty awesome.

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Giving Thanks, 2013 Edition

flamingturkeyIt’s that time of year again, when we in America pause to give thanks for what we have. In Canada, they do this in October (better weather) on a Monday (kills Monday for a week.) I sort of like the Canadian idea, but in America, it’s a rare four-day weekend. It’s a day for watching football (The Cowboys, the Lions, and, for some odd reason, now the Ravens). We consume huge amounts of the meat of a rather stupid bird, which puts us to sleep following dinner. It is a day for many families to embrace and indulge their dysfunction. Friday is a day that makes even Gordon Gecko despise capitalism, even if only for a day or so. It is the cultural end of autumn, the fiscal start of Christmas, and time when those of us who hate cold weather resign ourselves to that inevitable season we must endure for a few months: Winter.

But mostly, Thanksgiving is just that: Giving thanks. What am I thankful for?

Will code for food

zazzle.com, labeled for reuse

I work. Unemployment is still high, mainly because we have a Congress that, collectively, is the most useless in American history. Nonetheless, I have a job. Since 2008, when the economy tanked spectacularly, I was only out of work for about six weeks at the longest. When I lost my job at BigHugeCo, the VP who broke the news to me – whom I’d worked with for years – told me he regretted doing this, but at the same time told me to enjoy my summer vacation. They handed me twelve weeks severance. Within a couple of weeks, I was contracting, with only a two-week break that summer. There was a scary six weeks the following January and February where work jobs just weren’t to be had. And then I found work at Medishack, a job that was a hybrid of my old job as a desktop support technician and what I wanted to do, development. A lot of my good fortune was luck. A lot of it was persistence. And one thing I’ve seen during our most recent recession is that some people had a sense of entitlement that kept them out of decent jobs because the work was “beneath them.” These are usually the same people who complain the loudest about other people not working. So why did I not join in their reindeer games? All I know was that my creditors were asking where their money was, and it was hard for my wife to put food on the table with only my unemployment check to add to her income. I took less-paying work because I believe if you don’t work when it’s possible, you have no right to complain about not finding a job. It’s not like some people who literally can’t find work. Those people I feel for. The ones I had no respect for were the ones who asked me if I was insane taking temp jobs only two weeks after a layoff. I found that question insulting. At one point in my younger days, I worked three jobs at 60-70 hours a week. I don’t like idle time. Not without a fat bank account to back it up.

computer code

Photo: Carrot Lord, used under GNU FDL

I’m thankful I have a marketable skill. I write code. And I still fix computers. (No, I’m not going to fix yours. Forty hours a week of that is enough.) And I’m learning more about that all the time. Technology was a boon to me in the 1990’s. Through the Internet and cheap PC’s, I discovered several skillsets that will probably carry me through retirement, assuming I can retire. I don’t see why not. The more I learn, the more opportunities come my way. Add to that a business degree, and the opportunities open even wider. Nita is also getting a degree, a technology degree. This is going to help us open our own business. That, if successful, will secure our future. It won’t guarantee one or both of us won’t have to take a job welcoming people to Walmart at some point, but it makes it less likely.

Gabriel Iglesias

Photo: Tom Villegas, used under GNU FDL

I’m thankful for my health. Yes, I gained back all the weight I lost earlier this year. But after a recent hospital stay, my doctors were actually encouraged by what they saw. It’s only renewed my commitment to run the Flying Pig Marathon the week of my fiftieth birthday. I need to renew my discipline – no snacking, more fruit, stick with and keep revamping an exercise plan.

My wife expressed some doubt about me doing the Pig, but I have 2 1/2 years to get ready. In the meantime, my health can only improve. It’d better. After 50 is when a lot of things start falling apart at inconvenient moments. I intend to be healthier at 50 than I was at 40.

Nita_picMost of all, I’m thankful for the lovely lady to the right. Nita has been the best thing to ever happen to me. After five years, she still accepts me for who I am, is not afraid to be herself, and lights up my days and nights. Because of her, I’m a stepfather. And AJ looks at me as more than just the dude mom married. He is a great son, and I’m privileged to be part of his life. Our home is cozy and warm, and we all laugh a lot. I’ve married a hair metal chick and live with a boy who loves Monty Python. I look at Nita and know that I have a future. I watch AJ as he works his first job and goes to UC Blue Ash and marvel at how his adult life is a blank slate. Thanksgiving at our house is just us three with a small turkey and one rule: Stay out of Nita’s way until she puts up the tree. Once the tree is up, then we can get involved. Until then, shut up and eat your turkey. Oh, and could one of you do the dishes after lunch?

Happy Genocidal Land Grab Day!

Fire Turkey Today is Thanksgiving in these here United States. The tradition began in 1620 with the Puritans, a self-righteous lot who crossed the ocean, landed over 600 miles north of where they were supposed to land (Jamestown, Virginia), and promptly starved. Some local Indians taught them how to farm and held a harvest feast to celebrate the fruits of their first harvest. The Puritans gave thanks by running them off and accusing anyone who looked funny of witchcraft. (Hmm… That sounds more like Halloween than Thanksgiving.)

Thanksgiving as we know it today was first proclaimed by George Washington, who was very thankful that the country he helped found hadn’t disintegrated. Yes, even Washington had to put up with idiots who wanted to secede because they thought democracy meant “I always get my way.” Lincoln made it a permanent decree near the end of the Civil War, thankful that the Civil War was coming to an end. Franklin Roosevelt finally fixed it to the calendar: Thursday of the fourth full week in November.

In Canada, they have Thanksgiving, too. Only they do it slightly differently. Theirs is in October, which makes sense, since, like November, it’s a harvest month. They also do theirs on Monday. That also makes sense. In America, however, the fourth Thursday system has given rise to our most sacred of institutions: The federally mandated four-day weekend. W00t!

Unfortunately, it’s also given rise to Black Friday: A holiday in which retailers dupe consumers into camping out in mall parking lots and torture their employees with low-pay and outrageous hours. This is why I work in IT. I only have to go in if something blows up, and often I can fix it over teh Intrawebs.

The reason for all the madness is we are in an orgy of gratitude. We are thankful. So thankful that we gorge ourselves on the flesh of a rather stupid bird (Sorry, Ben Franklin) and pass out in the living room from a tryptophan overdose while watching bad football. The Canadian version of all this is roughly the same, except Canadians can pass out watching Monday Night Football. Hmm… Maybe FDR should have rethought that one.

So what are we thankful for?

Well, I am thankful for to be married to Nita. Valentine’s Day will be the fifth anniversary of our first date.  June, 2013 will be our fifth wedding anniversary. To say we had a whirlwind romance is an understatement. A week before our first date, I was sitting in a Chicago hotel room contemplating starting over in the Windy City as a single man. After all, Sean Chercover lives there. Marcus Sakey lives there. JA Konrath lives there. I knew all those guys. BigHugeCo has a presence there (ironically with an IT department started by the guy who hired me to work at Medishack.) But there was this cute blonde I met while doing standup, and I wanted to meet her for a drink. The only day we could meet was Valentine’s Day. Love at first sight? It does happen. Has it been easy?

Nothing worth having ever is.

Except bacon. And ice cold beer.

I am thankful to live in America. Which is not to say I wouldn’t be happier somewhere else. But we just had a election where the most violent thing to happen was the barrage of ads that hit swing states. Most of us became familiar with our bathrooms, our refrigerators, the DVR, and the mute button. There was no military coup. The only places we see trucks full of soldiers rolling down the streets outside of a natural disaster are near military bases and in parades. Things aren’t particularly great here, but after every election, we always have a handful of idiots who get mad that their guy lost and threaten to move to Canada (They don’t want you) or to secede (Most of us in your state want to stay, and anyway, it’s illegal. Ask Lincoln.) All I have to say to those folks is, “The borders are clearly marked on any map. Don’t let the border patrol hit you in the ass on the way out.”  The fact is if the worst thing to happen to you is you have to pay taxes, you live a charmed life, particularly if you make enough money to whine about it. You can go where you want, say what you want, and believe what you want. Me, personally, I am thankful that technology allows me to turn off morons with microphones simply by avoiding the entire AM band on my car radio.

Daniel Lambert, famous fat guyI am thankful for my health. Sure, there’s a lot I have to deal with: Weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, joints that are aging faster than the rest of me. But every year I make a little more progress. I hope to close out my forties healthier than I did my thirties. I can run. I can bike. And every year, I cut a little more out of my diet that years ago I would only give up at gunpoint. Pizza no longer holds sway over me. I actually find fast food somewhat repulsive. Not giving up beer, though. That’s just crazy talk!

And if I can’t, I’ll still chase Nita around the old folks home in my walker or my wheelchair.

I am thankful for technology. Technology is how I am able to still write. Technology is how I stay in touch with old friends. Technology is how I make my living. There are those who bemoan technology driving a wedge between people. I’ve noticed those people tend to be those I don’t want to deal with in person.

Computers and the Internet opened up a whole world of opportunity for me. Because of it, I never would have become a programmer. I doubt I ever would have made any serious stabs at writing.

Besides, where else could I find pictures of cats, pilfer George Takei’s online photos for Facebook, or watch endless hours of videos MTV refuses to show these days?

And where else can I get free porn?

I am thankful. All in all, I have a good life. Not a perfect life, but perfect does not exist. I’m thankful I figured out that simple truth.

Giving Thanks

It is Thanksgiving here in America. Today is the day where we sacrifice large, slow-moving, slow-witted birds in honor of all we are thankful for. In Canada, they do this in October when the weather is warmer and the roads are less likely to be iced or snowed over. No wonder Canadians are less stressed than Americans.

Nonetheless, I have a lot to be thankful for…

For starters, I am thankful for this little miracle. This coming Valentine’s Day will be the four-year anniversary of our first date. We both strongly suspected we’d have a relationship from the get-go. We never realized it’d be a whirl-wind romance that would result in marriage that summer. I am also thankful for AJ. When I married Nita, I would have been content if AJ just thought of me as “That dude mom married,” happy as long as I took care of his mother and didn’t act like the stereotypical unlikeable stepdad. We’re a family, and I never expected to have one like this.

I’m thankful to be working. And not only that, I’m thankful to be doing work I enjoy. I’m a web developer now. ASP.Net for now, but I’m learning Java, and PHP is not that hard to pick up. It’s a terrific change from simply fixing computers, though I still do a fair amount of that. It’s great to know that arcane language behind the pages you see and make them active. I eventually want to be able to do this on tablets and smartphones.

I’m thankful to be gainfully employed. There was a period of uncertainty last year after BigHugeCo and I parted ways. I managed to find contracting work through the end of the year, and then…

There was a scary six weeks at the beginning of this year. Six weeks is nothing compared to what some others have gone through. So to basically pick up roughly where I left off leaves me very grateful.

One thing I’ve always been thankful for is music. Music has always gotten me through some of the worst times in my life. There was a period when I thought all was right with the world because Roger Waters hated life. Sometimes, I needed angry music like Metallica to purge the demons. Other times, I needed Shirley Manson’s dark beauty to lure me out of a funk. The Foo Fighters are sort of my go-to band these days. Sometimes, though, I just want to put on some classical and chill.

I am thankful I can write. And I’m thankful other writers still take me seriously despite my struggle for success. Writers like Anthony Neil Smith and JD Rhoades and Ken Bruen who lent a few words to kick off my ebooks. Writers like Brian Thornton and Jennette Marie Powell who are always there when the story doesn’t work or when it finally does. After a decade, it’s clear I don’t really do it for the money, even if it took me a few years to realize that. I do it because I wanna.

Monkey typing

And now, I’m going to go to my mother-in-law’s and thank her for this year’s sacrificial dead bird.

Flaming turkey

Labeled for reuse

Happy Turkey Day!

It’s Thanksgiving here in America, a day where most of us give thanks for what we have.  When I say most, one particular avian species is excluded for obvious reasons.

 

wild turkey

(C)2006 Wing-Chi Poon, creative commons

Yet when I gaze upon this bird, I am most thankful that natural selection altered the turkey’s ancestor to the point where it’s no longer on top of the food chain.

VelociraptorYes, that’s right.  Thanks to millions of years of mutations, the velociraptor has evolved – or maybe devolved – into two distinct species of bird, one of which we will dine on this afternoon.  The other spawn of raptor is frequently found extra crispy in the presence of 11 herbs and spices.  T Rex would be pleased.

But what else am I thankful for?

Well, for starters, I’m thankful for my family, Nita and AJ.  It’s been nearly three years, now, since Nita and I got together.  I can’t really imagine my life before her, nor can I imagine a time when I wasn’t a step-parent.

I am thankful I’m relatively healthy, even if there’s more of me than there should be.  I have nothing wrong with me at the moment that keeps me from working or leading a normal life.  And really, most of my health problems can be summed up in one phrase:  “Dude, you’re fat!”  I’m working on it.  Just not today.  Dieting on Thanksgiving?  That’s just crazy talk!

big bellyI am thankful to be employed.  I may be swinging from contract to contract until I can land a long-term assignment or a permanent job, but I didn’t get laid off until late in the Great Recession.  Granted, the recovery is glacially slow, but it beats the hell out of a second Depression.  (And no, I don’t want to hear what Glenn Beck says on the matter.  He’s just yanking your chain anyway.)  The fact is, I was handed a severance check, was able to find contract work almost immediately, and, with the exception of walking off a bad job this past summer, have worked steadily since August.  I won’t lie and say it’s been easy and painless, but it’s manageable.

Unemployment lineDespite the rancor, the loss of prestige, the uncertainty, the fear, and the Forever War we seemed to be mired in, I am thankful I live in America.  War, plague, and famine haven’t touched our shores in a very long time.  The things we call out our leaders over are damned polite compared to what other places in the world have to endure.  I don’t share my fellow citizens’ need for a boogie man, nor do I think we’re any better than anyone else.  We’re just damned lucky.  That luck can continue if we stop eyeing everyone else suspiciously or acting like any change is a threat.  Change happens.  Embrace it.  Otherwise, it will run you over.

I am thankful I can write.  And I’m thankful people will read what I write.  I may have curtailed my crime fiction activities and taken on a different approach.  And now, it’s not about getting a big contract, chasing markets, or awards.  It’s just about writing what I want and subbing the best stuff for everyone to read.  Pretty liberating when you stop caring about making any money off it.  Ironically, I probably will start making money now.  Go figure.

 

Monkey typing

I am thankful for vets.  I never got a chance to serve.  (Note to military recruiters:  Don’t send your recruits to the induction center when they get the flu.)  But I’ve always been thankful for those who did:  One grandfather, two uncles, a handful of cousins, an ex-brother-in-law, countless friends.

No matter where you are, whether you are here where we give thanks by pigging out or somewhere else where you have to go to work today, if you have friends or family close to you who make your life worth living, make sure you thank them.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

Tips for Thanksgiving:

  • When deep-frying a turkey, try not to fry it on something flammable.  Like a wooden deck.
  • My late father pointed out that the reason you buy turkeys in the store (or shoot them in the wild) has a lot to do with the bird’s temperament.  While stupid and scared of their own shadows, turkeys are also slightly less vicious than a pit bull, assuming the pit bull was kicked in the balls.
  • Fans of the Detroit Lions today may want their wild turkey from a bottle instead of  Kroger.
  • Tomorrow is Black Friday.  I buy all my stuff ahead of time or between Black Friday and Christmas Eve.
  • I get at least one turkey leg.  Deal with it.
  • I am thankful that the last eight years will soon be over.  That’s assuming we’re not invaded by Gelnarg from Remulac, who might conquer the world for the sole purpose of impregnating Paris Hilton.  (That would be so not hot.)