Dear agony

(Title for this post is from the Breaking Benjamin song of the same name, whose refrain you’ll see as soon as I finish this parenthetical.)

Dear agony,
Just let go of me
Suffer slowly
Is this the way it’s gotta be?

The simple answer to your question, Ben, is…no. No, it doesn’t have to be that way. But only if something good happens to give you a little bit of hope.

Over the past few weeks, it has.

For fifteen long months, I had suffered. I had all but given up. I’m not afraid to admit that. There were nights that I cried myself to sleep, days where I would hide in my room, not wanting to do anything but sleep. And if that sleep turned into the more permanent sort, well, I wouldn’t have been opposed. At least then the pain would stop, right?

Now, I honestly feel like a whole new person. While I’m sure a certain man in northern Virginia wouldn’t mind taking all the credit for that, it wasn’t just the job that gave me hope. No, landing that position merely gave me the spark. As I’ve said often, if I could get just one good thing to happen to me, all the rest would fall in line. And it might be doing precisely that.

The world still sucks, as we all know, but things are getting a little better. The ranks of those who question the narrative are growing, and they have grown large enough in my humble state to start putting the brakes on our slow decline into tyranny. Better would be throwing this train into reverse and getting us back to liberty: banning mask mandates, banning vaccine passports, opening schools and bars and sporting events. In short, living our lives, instead of cowering in fear. But any progress is good, even if it’s so slow that snails are outrunning us.

That is one belief I hold dear. Progress is good. Progress has given us immeasurable benefits, and it will continue to do so as long as we embrace it. Not everything new is progress, however. Anyone who has grumbled over an app update or yelled at a voice menu knows that all too well.

True progress is that which improves the human condition: longer lives, healthier lives, more freedom, more resistance to the ravages of nature, and so on. Unfortunately, it’s so often the case that we are told these things are bad. We’re defying the will of God or poisoning Mother Earth or whatever.

The worst of this sort of thinking became popular last year, when elites and their hangers-on parroted the line, “Nature is healing.” In effect—and, in some cases, in words—these people made the claim that we humans are a pathogen, and the made-in-China coronavirus was, in fact, a natural response to our overreach in some nebulous way. Of course, the same people say the same things about weather disasters, so you can’t take them seriously, but the sheer idiocy of such a statement never fails to annoy me.

My contemplations of the past year or so gave rise to technetism, but this anti-human religion gives it an enemy. And I feel it gives me a higher purpose, something beyond writing novels and computer programs. Common sense dictates that I reject the nihilism and doom-saying of the environmentalists, the pandemic fearmongers, and all those who stand in the way of progress.

However, a negative philosophy is no philosophy at all; this is my biggest criticism of atheism, and it fits here, too. It is perfectly fine to say that you don’t believe in something, but far more fulfilling if you can find something you do believe in. If you have to make it yourself, then so be it. Every movement began somewhere.

I choose to believe that humans are an inherently positive influence on the world, and on each other. We build, we create, we invent. We solve problems. We come together and make something greater. Yes, there are individuals (and large groups) standing in our way, blocking our progress. Impediments have always existed, though. They’ll never truly go away. What we can, and must, do is overcome them. The best way to start, in my opinion, is to be more sociable. Shake hands, hug, get close to one another again. Take off the masks and let people see that we are human beings.

There’s still a lot of agony out there. For me, it hasn’t all gone away over the past few weeks. But now I have enough positive influences in my life to see the sun peeking through the clouds. Now I have a reason to fight that extends beyond myself and those I love.

Maybe that’s all I needed.

A new chapter

I have battled depression and anxiety for a very long time, far longer than I’ve been writing about it here on PPC. Even before I understood what was wrong with me, I fought, and I have learned that it’s not a fight I can win alone.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been more adamant about finding ways to combat the demons in my head, and all my best strategies boil down to one simple task: get my life on track. I’m 37, and I very often feel like I’ve accomplished nothing in the past 20 years, that the entire 21st century, for me, has been a waste of time. I tried to start my own business, and it never really worked. I didn’t bother with dating until my 30s, because I figured it was just a waste of time; who would want somebody like me?

As I descended further and studied my condition more, I came to see how it was exacerbated by my perceived failures. I had dreams, much like anyone. I still have them, though they aren’t the same as they were when I was 18 or 25 or even 33. Now, thanks to the rigors of the past two years, the trials and tribulations I’ve endured, those dreams are more concrete and more…mundane. I want a life of my own. I want to get paid to create things. I want to be a husband and a father. That’s pretty much it.

For 30 months, I fought to drag myself towards any of those goals, with no progress whatsoever. In some cases, I feel I regressed, and that was both due to and contributing to my depression. Why? Because I was trying to do it alone. As I’ve stated on here before, when I’m in a depressed state, my natural reaction is to hide. If I’m going to be a disappointment, my thinking goes, let it just be for me.

And that line of thinking has taken me to the very edge on more than one occasion. Not a full month ago, I was at quite possibly the lowest point I’ve ever faced. I had given up on all three of those life goals, and I had made my peace with that. I was ready to abandon the eternal (and eternally disappointing) job search. I did abandon my relationship. And I was okay with it, because I didn’t think there was any point lying to myself or to those around me anymore. In the last week of March, I made a deal with myself. If I couldn’t get hired for something, somewhere, by the end of this month, I’d quit trying. I would try to find a way to explain to my beloved that it wasn’t her fault I failed her, and I would spend the rest of my life writing as many books as I could, while making preparations for an end that, I had planned, would come in the days before my 40th birthday, in 2023.

I am happy to report that this plan went out the window.

I had mentally prepared myself for the breakup text, but she contacted me the day before I’d planned to send it. Some of the things she said hurt because they came from the anger she felt at being ignored for almost a full month. Many more hurt because they showed me the pain I had caused her. Because of her, and the love she showed me even when I had none for myself, I resolved to try one more time.

I didn’t expect much when I applied for the job. It was yet another startup (something like a startup, at any rate) looking for a full-stack developer, yet another one of those “1-click easy apply” deals on Linkedin. Something I’d done literally a thousand times before, with 99% of those ignoring me or sending me a polite, yet still hurtful to my fragile psyche, rejection message. Sure, what little description of the job was there did fit my skills: HTML, CSS, PHP on the back end, some jQuery-based scripting for the front. In other words, what I’ve been doing for most the last decade for fun. But there were already 30 applicants, any one of whom might be better qualified. They would have degrees. They would have enterprise experience. They wouldn’t be insecure introverts who freeze up in an interview.

Somehow, I beat them all. I still don’t understand it, and I’m not completely out of the shock phase. I keep wondering when I’m going to wake up and find it was all a dream. I met the team—the rest of the team—on a video conference last Thursday, and the scariest part of that is how I didn’t feel completely out of place. I expected a group who would look at the shy man with the graying hair as someone they were merely tolerating. I instead found…people. Ordinary people who welcomed me in a way I’d never truly known before.

Parts of the arrangement continue to make me uncomfortable. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to perform under the pressure of a full-time development job where I have actual deadlines, not vague milestones or schedules I’ve set for myself, and actual responsibilities that go beyond “just get it done”. I know I’m the outlier in pretty much every aspect: they’re all animal-lovers and risk-takers and generally outgoing types, while I’m allergic to cats and not a big fan of dogs, and I’d rather stay home and read a book than go scuba diving.

I’m not a perfect fit, then. I likely never will be. But it doesn’t matter right now, because I’m there. I’m hired and accepted.

All along, I’ve told myself that I could get my life going if I could just take one good step forward. Now’s my chance to prove the truth of that statement.

Year of hell

(The title isn’t from a song this time. Instead, this very appropriate name comes from my favorite episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the most underrated of the Trek series.)

One year ago, I was free. One year ago, I had hopes and dreams. I believed I had a chance to succeed, to achieve some of the life goals I’ve had for decades. I lived in a country where this was possible, if unlikely for one such as myself. I was depressed, yes, but I felt like I could see the light, that I could reach it, if only I tried hard enough.

A lot can change in a year.

Now, I live in a dystopian nightmare. I haven’t been inside a business in a full year, apart from five seconds inside the America’s Best store in Hixson last May. I went in to get my new glasses. I’d gotten the prescription in February, but then I had to find the money to pay for them. By the time I finally managed that, the whole world shut down, with the notable bastions of intelligence in Sweden and South Dakota. So I couldn’t actually pick up my order until businesses were “allowed” to reopen.

But it wasn’t that simple. As soon as I walked inside, the cashiers demanded a temperature check, so I walked right back out. My mom, who took me down there (can’t drive without glasses, remember), is less allergic to authoritarianism, so she submitted to the illegal medical exam long enough to retrieve what I had already paid for.

Since then, I’ve mostly stayed at home. And that’s most certainly not because I believe that’s the best way to combat a virus.

No, lockdowns don’t work. We have proof of that. You only need to look at the places that didn’t imprison their entire citizenry for months on end to see the real numbers. Similarly, masks don’t work. That’s why I haven’t worn one since December 2019, when I thought I had the flu. (As it turns out, I had the Wuhan coronavirus. You know how I know? Because it was listed as the flu and an “unknown pathogen” on my release papers.) As I haven’t been sick—in the physical sense, as I know I’m seriously mentally ill—since, I’ve seen no reason to restrain my breathing, trigger my anxiety, and curtail my liberty in that manner.

Well, you might think, what about the vaccine? Uh-uh. First off, it’s not a vaccine, because the purpose of a vaccine is to provide immunity to a virus by stimulating the body’s immune system. The Moderna and Pfizer mRNA treatments don’t do this. They don’t prevent you from contracting the Wuhan virus. They don’t prevent you from spreading it to others. They barely alleviate the symptoms. What they actually do is even worse. Ask Hank Aaron. Ask the nurse from Chattanooga who passed out on live TV. Ask the women who’ve had miscarriages, the perfectly healthy men in their 30s who have suffered serious injury or even death.

The virus has an overall fatality rate of around 0.02%, and essentially no reinfection. (Wait, 0.02%? Don’t the official numbers say 0.26%? Yes, but those are heavily inflated. Per the CDC’s own report, only about 6% of deaths can be traced to the virus itself. The rest are due to comorbidities: preexisting conditions such as obesity, heart problems, kidney failure, etc. Since comorbidities aren’t counted for vaccine deaths, we need to compare apples to apples.)

The mRNA “vaccines” cause serious harm in about 5% of cases, and death in as many as 0.4%. We don’t know the exact figures, because they rely on voluntary reporting, and no one wants to point out that Emperor Fauci has no clothes. However you look at the data, though, it doesn’t lie. On the whole, getting the virus is actually safer than getting its supposed cure!

And that’s merely one more truth the world has decided to deny in the past year. But there are many more.

  • Lockdowns are ineffective. They achieve nothing in terms of slowing the spread of an illness, unless you go to the extremes of a certain communist dictatorship and weld people’s doors shut so they can’t go outside. As sane countries are supposed to respect things like basic human rights and dignity, citizens will go outside. And they should, because the fastest way to end a pandemic is to reach herd immunity.

  • The Chinese virus isn’t even a pandemic. Take away the overinflated death counts, where suicides, overdoses, car accidents, and murders are attributed to a virus simply because the victim tested positive in a flawed procedure three weeks before the time of death, and it never reached the CDC’s defined threshold of pandemic status. That’s when approximately 5% of all deaths are caused by the pathogen in question; only by counting every death under the sun were we able to hit that mark even at the peak last April.

  • The makers of the “vaccines” have ulterior motives. Notice that they are indemnified against all liability, and they’ve received billions of taxpayer dollars. These treatments have bypassed the normal FDA requirements, and why? The virus isn’t another Spanish flu. It’s not smallpox or polio. It has killed fewer people than tuberculosis in the past year.

  • People are suffering. The single-minded focus on this particular virus has caused irreparable harm to our society and our populace. Suicides are at an all-time high. Childhood trauma is rampant. Depression and anxiety, as I know all too well, can make plenty of people wish they were dead, or at least not living through this.

  • The media is not on our side. For twelve months, they have parroted the talking points of a specific segment of the political spectrum. Andrew Cuomo was a hero when he sent infected patients to nursing homes a year ago, killing thousands of elderly men and women. The governors of California, Washington, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, and many other states have acted in a way more appropriate to the old Soviet Union, if not the feudal era. And not only have journalists not called out these gross abuses of power, but they have lauded them every step of the way.

Twelve months ago, even expressing these ideas was heresy of the highest order. You were instantly branded a denier, a skeptic, an alt-right fascist terrorist. You were called racist, sexist, or any number of other hateful epithets.

Now? Oh, it’s even worse. But some people are waking up. There’s a strong anti-mask movement that isn’t hard to find. The worst government abuses and excesses are finally getting pushback. Alternative social media platforms are gaining in popularity, especially now that the big players—Google, Twitter, Facebook—have deemed scientific accuracy and a love of personal liberty to be violations of their terms of service.


It’s been a rough year. In twelve months, I’ve gone from cautiously optimistic to suicidally depressed. The only thing that gives me hope is the knowledge that I’m not alone in this. Anyone who has taken any time at all to think about what we’re being forced to endure feels the same way. We don’t want a “new normal”, where children aren’t allowed to play, where handshakes and hugs are illegal, where you’re a prisoner in your own home unless you agree to undergo experimental genetic modification. No, we want what we had. What was taken from us.

This “pandemic” isn’t worth the name. Compare the total death counts in the US from 2019 and 2020. Shouldn’t those “500,000 coronavirus deaths” show up there? Look at the flu stats for this winter—rather, the total absence of them. Look at the mental health crisis sweeping our nation, and tell me stopping what amounts to a bad cold is worth that cost. Spare a thought for the record number of suicides in the last year.

Because there were a lot of days where I almost joined them.

Future imperfect

Today I met a man
He looked so much like me
I asked him where he’d been
He told me where I’d be

“All the world,” he said, “is
Nothing but a stage
History is just a book
Each life a single page

Authors of our fate we are
Weavers of our destiny
With power to create
The change we want to see

The past for us is written
In ink indelible
The future sketched in pencil
And ever changeable

I have written many stories
Told tales of distant lands
Yet the only thing I wanted
Never fell into my hands

Nothing could come easily
No matter how I tried
So I gave up trying
And many nights I cried

Until my days were running out
My love a memory
I wondered if a bullet
Would be my remedy

I beg of you to listen
Th my words because
I came to show you how to be
Better than I ever was.”


Apparently, I wasn’t done a couple of days ago. Why my mind dreams this stuff up while I’m on the toilet or taking a shower, I’ll never know.

The second leg

This blog is named Prose Poetry Code, but you’ll notice I almost never mention the “poetry” part. I’m just not any good at it.

But inspiration occasionally strikes, so here’s a verse I literally just composed in the bathroom.

I’m a shadow of a man, a dark reflection
Plato’s cave is where I dwell, forever onward
Not allowed to see the sun, nor light of hope
Cursed to watch the hours pass, alone in darkness

The life I’ll never have

(The title of this post is adapted from a line in “Act Of Faythe” by Dream Theater. I’m going to try to be more diligent in crediting the musicians who inspire me.)

It doesn’t take much to trigger depression, to send a person who suffers from it down into the depths. Sometimes all it takes is the slightest thing, a casual remark uttered where he can hear. Just some little comment that gets misinterpreted, gets filtered through this dark lens I’m forced to use to look at the world, and I’m in the dumps again.

It works even better when you throw it in my face.

I love my family. I’ve said that so many times, and I’ve often wondered if I write it so much because I need to be reminded. But I really do. I love them with all my heart. I wouldn’t be here without them, and I mean that in a very literal sense: besides the obvious “my mother gave birth to me” stuff, I would have killed myself long ago without the support I receive from my close relations.

That said, they make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, after all. In the past year, they’ve grown more accustomed to my mental state, and I’ve tried to work with them to help them understand what it does to me. That’s good. For too long, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anybody about it, as even my own mother would say, “What do you have to be depressed about?” If I said something to my aunt, she’d always counter, “Imagine if you lost your son.” My brother? “So am I.”

Now, it’s better, if only because all their fortunes have gotten worse to match mine. And that, I think, is what made yesterday’s triggering event so…powerful. My mom and I were talking. I’d just ordered pizza for dinner, and we were waiting on the delivery. For no reason I can fathom, she started browsing Facebook (she’s become quite the social media fanatic since last May), and she showed me a picture.

My half-sister. At her wedding.

I’ve told the story before, but I’ll recap. My father left when I was 12. (That’s 1995, for those keeping score at home.) He was having an affair with his secretary, and they got married the week his divorce was finalized. The first baby, a girl, was born in 1998. She’ll be 23 this summer. Twenty-three years old. The last time I saw her in person, she wasn’t old enough to walk! (For the record, she has a younger sibling. I’ve never actually met my half-brother, and he was born in 2001.)

Something about that just hurt on the deepest level. Here I am at age 37, driving myself into near-suicidal insanity in an attempt to make even the smallest step toward a life of my own, and the little baby from that weekend vacation in ’99 is not only grown, but married.

I made some mumbles of acknowledgment when my mom was swiping through the pictures. Somehow, she didn’t notice the tone of my voice growing dull and lifeless, or the way I quickly turned my head so I wouldn’t have to see yet another yardstick for my failure. No, she kept on going, looking through Little Sister’s friends list.

Did you know that my cousin, who (I think?) is also 37, is a mother of two? I certainly didn’t. You tend not to hear about these things when you don’t talk to certain people for literal decades. Her sister, about five years younger, has a child of her own, apparently. Their brother in the middle? No idea. I got tired of the pictures and had to excuse myself, because I was already on the verge of tears.

I’ve never met any of my once-removed cousins on my father’s side. I don’t know their names; they may not even know I exist. That doesn’t trouble me as much as it probably should. We all have some relatives we don’t see often enough. Mine just happen to be very close on the family tree.

What bothered me was the comparison. My mom didn’t mean to do that. I don’t blame her for it. I am upset that she seemed oblivious to the pain she was causing me, but it was my own mind that made something painful out of what should have been fun and lighthearted.

Still, it hurt to be reminded of what I don’t have. What I sometimes believe I’ll never have. Because…this world isn’t getting any better, and I’m not getting any younger. I’ve been denied for so long, and maybe it’s pity or envy talking, but it just isn’t fair. It really isn’t.

I try. I try every day to be better. I’ve written dozens of novels. I’ve created a few applications and websites. I instinctively grasp things most people don’t even try to comprehend. Those who know me best all agree that I’m good at what I do.

But does that really matter? In the end, does it matter how good you are, if you never have the chance to prove it? Connections count for more than experience when it comes to job hunting, and I have no connections. The easiest way to make money is to inherit it, but that’s hard to do when the man who was supposed to provide the inheritance ran off to spend it on the woman he thought was more worthy. My only marketable skills are in overcrowded fields, I can’t open a business of my own when nobody’s allowed to open a business at all, and that doesn’t even begin to get into the other blocking factors.

I know what I want: I want to be a husband and a father. Part of that comes from a competitive drive to outdo my own father, to prove that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes he did. Part of it comes from my personal belief in bionatalism, the idea that my primary purpose is to reproduce and thus further not only the species, by my own genetic lineage. And the largest portion of it comes from the simple fact that I have someone with whom I could make it all happen. Best of all, she genuinely wants the feminine counterpart to that life. With me.

I don’t think I’m more deserving than, say, my half-sister or cousins. My low self-esteem won’t let me think that. I do think I deserve a chance. We all do, and I’m still waiting on mine.

I’m just tired of waiting.

Seven year itch

Today is January 6, 2021. That means a few things. First, I somehow survived 2020. Despite all odds, despite the world throwing everything in my way, I’m still breathing. Whether I want to be, well, that’s the question, isn’t it? And 9 months into the two weeks to “flatten the curve” has me wondering what the answer really is.

Second, it’s the day the electoral votes are supposed to be counted. (I’m actually writing this post the night of the 4th, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.) That’s a whole other story, one for a different post. Suffice to say, this is one of the last chances to stop the coup against our great nation, to stand up for liberty and against oppression.

But today also marks an anniversary, of sorts. More of a commemoration, actually. Seven years ago, my cousin passed away. And that changed my life for the worse, in ways that still reverberate to this day.


It was a Monday. As is often the case after Christmas, my sleeping schedule was horribly out of balance. I can’t remember the exact times, but I had stayed up through the night before, and I was ready to fall asleep around 4 PM. I’d just climbed into bed, in fact, when my grandmother called. She was talking to my mom, and my brother suddenly ran into my bedroom.

As a quick digression, my aunt is a mother of one and a huge animal lover. Her only son was named Joey. Her dog was named Zoë. (Yes, the dots are necessary. She insisted.) The rhyming was intentional, and it stemmed from an incident whose details I can’t quite recall. Whatever it was, it happened as she was bringing the dog home, all the way back in 2005.

Anyway, back to the story. As I was getting comfortable, my brother burst into my room and said, “Zoë’s dead!”

I was shocked for a moment, because it’s always sad to hear about a family pet dying. But it’s only a dog, not a human being. So I made a little joke, we laughed, and I shrugged it off. A few seconds later, I hear a bloodcurdling scream from my mom downstairs. “No!” she wailed. And I do mean wailed. I had never heard a sound like that out of my own mother. I didn’t know she was capable of it.

Well, I had to find out what was up. Surely she wouldn’t be doing that over a dog. As I’m coming down the stairs, I hear her crying and saying, “He can’t be!”

Zoë was female, so there went that theory. What really happened was that my grandmother (ten days shy of her 91st birthday) had misheard “Joey” as “Zoë” at precisely the wrong time. The one who had died was not, in fact, the dog, but the man.

That Monday was awful already. It was the coldest day of the year, with a temperature that never got out of the 20s and ended up somewhere around 0° Fahrenheit. Bitterly cold for Tennessee, and actually the coldest January day for my small town since the 1980s. The doors of my mom’s car were frozen shut. The pipes running to my upstairs bathroom burst in the night. And we would have to brave this frigid evening, because my cousin really did die.

We met at my grandmother’s house. Trailer, rather, the same one where she passed away a little over a year later, and the same where my uncle did the same in 2020. My brother and I rode with my mom and stepdad. Another of my aunts, who lived next door, had come down, along with her youngest daughter. Everyone was on the verge of tears, if not openly weeping. We hugged, shared words of consolation, and generally settled into a kind of vigil, waiting for more news.

That came soon enough. Joey had been sick. I recall that very well. He’d had the flu at Christmas Eve; I caught it from him. Influenza rarely kills someone 35 years old, but it can happen, and it’s even more likely than a person the same age dying to the Wuhan virus. Especially if that person is, to put it bluntly, morbidly obese. He wasn’t one of those people you see on TLC, eating everything in sight and never moving from their beds. No, he was a very active, very energetic man who just happened to have some kind of medical problem that left him almost totally unable to lose weight. So he was probably north of 400 pounds at the time of his death. (A lot of it was muscle, to be fair. And he was tall: 6’5″, the tallest in our family by a good 5 inches over second place, which happened to be me.)

In his later years, he’d had problems with his heart, stemming from his weight. He also had some kind of spider bite (I think?) on his leg that never properly healed—his treatment was on hold until he recovered from the flu. So he was by no means in perfect or even good health, but death always comes as a shock in someone so young.


I didn’t see him until the funeral. I couldn’t. While everyone else went to my aunt’s house, about a quarter of a mile up the road, I stayed with my grandmother. Except I didn’t so much stay with her as lock myself in her room where she couldn’t see me cry.

And cry I did. Pretty much constantly.

I’ve often mentioned my emotional attachment to music. On this occasion, I listened to Black Eye Galaxy, an album by blues rock musician Anders Osborne. I’d never played the whole album in one sitting before then, and I haven’t since. It’s just too powerful, too poignant. No set of songs has ever, in my opinion, encapsulated such pure, undiluted anguish. That was exactly what I needed at the time. I needed someone to tell me that they had felt something like what I was feeling.

Because Joey might have been my cousin, but he was more than that to me. He was closer to a big brother. I looked up to him. After my father left, I did so even more, using him as inspiration for my own big-brother nature. He was a friend to everyone, a big, cuddly teddy bear of a man who could still get angry if you crossed him or his family.

Most of all, he respected me like no one else in my life. When I spoke, he listened. If he needed advice on anything from computers to music to stereo modding to growing peppers, he turned to me, and he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone why. That’s what I lost. Seven years ago today, I lost not only my cousin, but my best friend, my mentor, my biggest fan.

I haven’t been the same since.

Two days after he died, I dreamed of him. We were out shopping with our respective mothers, and I followed him to the games aisle. Our family has a tradition of game night, and the two of us often talked about new games to get. (Settlers of Catan was the one I wish we’d had a chance to play.) In the dream, we were browsing the shelves when I suddenly looked over at him and said, “I guess we don’t get to play games anymore, do we?” If anyone ever tells you that your heart can’t break in a dream, they’re lying.


I was a pallbearer for the first time in my life, as I had been the odd man out for my grandfather’s funeral in 2012. I was also the music director for the service, and I still have the list of tracks I used:

  • Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Simple Man”
  • Randy Travis, “He Walked On Water”
  • Brad Paisley, “When I Get Where I’m Going”
  • Vince Gill, “Go Rest High On That Mountain”

Not all my kind of music, I’ll admit, but it served its purpose well. And I only cried for one of the songs, but I dare anybody to listen to Vince Gill without getting at least a little misty. It’s just impossible.

The days that followed were the hardest for everyone. My aunt refused to take down her Christmas decorations, because he was the one who put them up. She still takes weekly visits to the cemetery where he was buried, and she was very upset a couple of weeks ago, when the road was blocked due to a suspicious vehicle scare. (This was right after the Christmas bombing a hundred miles away in Nashville.)

We all had to adapt to life without one of us, without the natural leader and protector we had lost. Our family parties are a lot…less now. Smaller, less raucous, and I’m the one leading all the games. Before, that was an honor: Joey, first of anyone else, declared me the permanent game master. If we were playing any kind of trivia game, he said, I had to be the one asking the questions. Otherwise, nobody else could win! Since he left this world, that position became a necessity, as we just don’t have enough people to balance out my, ah, wide body of trivia knowledge.

Most of all, I lost one of the very few people I felt I could trust to stand beside me through thick and thin. My uncle’s health was growing worse, my mom was spending more and more time taking care of him and my grandmother, and I just didn’t have anyone older to talk to. Not in the same way I could talk to him. Just as when my father left, I became the older one, the man in charge. I wasn’t ready for that when I was 12, and being 30 didn’t make it any easier.

The loss, and the responsibility that came in its wake, sent my depression to a level where I could no longer ignore that it existed. For seven years I’ve lived with it, dealt with it in whatever way I could. Two years ago, I realized I would be older than Joey had been at the time of his death. Something about that resonated in me. Call it survivor’s guilt, because I honestly felt like I didn’t deserve to outlive him. I didn’t actively consider ending my own life, but I did passively accept that, if it did happen, it wouldn’t be unjust. After all, I wasn’t half the man he was.

I still feel that way. He never married, never had children. Given the state of the world and my life, I doubt I’ll have the chance to outdo him in either respect. But he had a decent job, a number of loyal friends, and a generally positive attitude that, in my seemingly eternal depths of despair, I outright envy.

Seven years have gone by. In one sense, that’s nothing. In another, it’s forever. So much has changed that he’d probably find the world almost unrecognizable. He’d be asking me for help to navigate some of the strangeness we have to face today that just wasn’t there even as late as 2014. Or we might have found ourselves on different sides of this great divide that is taking over every aspect of life. I can’t say for certain. I do know that there are times I miss him more than ever, and times when I would gladly give my own life if it would bring him back.

“Family comes first” is a motto I use in all my books. The first novel I released, Before I Wake, was my way of illustrating that. It was in a lot of ways, for him. The protagonist, Jay, is so named because those were my cousin’s initials. And I’ve added small nods to him in other works, as well. The Soulstone Sorcerer has as Ian’s boss a very…large man named Joseph, who recently had gastric bypass surgery; my cousin had been considering that for some time. The Endless Forms series has a number of references. As his mother was the one who pitched it, I felt it would be a good place to toss in as many as I could fit.

But those are only small reminders, my way of coping with a tragedy. After seven years, the memory remains. So does the wound. Oh, it’s no longer fresh, but it left a scar on my very soul, one that will never truly heal.

The end

We’ve finally reached the end of this miserable year. It seems like just yesterday we had things like hope, friendship, and society, but it’s really been nine months since such concepts were outlawed, ostensibly to protect us all from a ravaging virus that, as it turns out, is about as deadly as the flu we deal with every year. Add in a real-life coup d’etat right here in the good old USA, and it seems as if the world is in the throes of a nightmare the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Nagasaki.

My own nightmare reached new depths, too.

2020 was supposed to be the year I turned it around. In January and February, before the world went (rather, was driven) totally insane, I had plans. I was going to get a full-time job. I’d move out on my own, maybe to somewhere around Nashville, like the uncle I had just bid goodbye. This Christmas, if everything went just right, would have been the first I’d celebrate as a husband, and maybe even an expectant father.

Well, none of that happened. Instead, I’m stuck in my bedroom, the place I’ve spent most of the year. The last time I was inside a place of business was getting my glasses in June; I walked right back out the door when they demanded a temperature screening. Since then, I don’t go in anywhere but the homes of family members, with the lone exception of Election Day.

I’m a loner by nature, but I’ve never felt more alone than this. And that, I think, encapsulates 2020 for me. It’s the one lesson I’ll take from this year. I’m alone but for my family. There’s no one looking out for me. No guardian angels, whether in the literal or metaphorical sense. If I’m going to succeed at anything, it’ll be by my own merits, my own luck…neither of which I have in any great quantity.

The current political situation has forced me to ally with all manner of people I used to consider undesirable. Fundamentalist Christians, conspiracy theorists, and people who really do deserve to be called racists. I don’t love them. I really don’t even like them. But they at least share some of the ideals I hold most dear. They have hope, and I envy them for it.

They have faith, as well, and that is something else I’ve lost. I can’t look at this mess of a world and see any grand plan. Nor can I forsake it entirely, in the belief that suffering through this life is necessary before getting the “true” reward that awaits beyond. When I read right-wing posts going on about Biblical prophecy or equating a vital medical procedure to murder, I have to shake my head. They would call me a heretic or heathen. The only reason I still associate with them is because the other side would call me worse.

I know I don’t fit in with them, and I never will. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me much. I’ve lived 37 years without fitting in. Given the choice between gritting my teeth through sermons or walking on eggshells each day to avoid being canceled, I’ll go with the ones who aren’t starting riots and destroying the lives of those they disagree with.


But where do I go? That’s the real question for 2021, and it’s one I’ve been thinking quite a lot about.

I can’t keep pretending things are going to just get better on their own. I also can’t believe anyone is going give me a real chance to better myself. They haven’t yet, so why would next year be any different?

One of the great things about the internet is the vast wealth of knowledge available. That knowledge is an endless source of fascination. If that weren’t enough, it has also taught me much about myself, showing me that the things I considered personal were, in fact, already in existence. Indeed, they’re often named and studied, but I never knew until I thought to look it up.

In this case, I’m referring to a personal philosophy. “Bionatalism” is the word I didn’t know I’d been looking for, and I found it last week. Put simply, it’s the belief that reproduction is a moral imperative.

That belief is one of my most fundamental. I recently found out that my cousin has been cheating on her husband. Obviously, that’s horrible, but there are extenuating circumstances that make it not all her fault. You see, he had a vasectomy a few years ago. Without telling her beforehand. Something about that really did repulse me more than the thought of her cheating. A part of me felt that he deserved it.

I’d never do such a thing. I made that vow to myself when 37 was closer to my mom’s age than my own. Since summer of last year, when the prospect of a serious relationship became a tantalizing possibility, I’ve been thinking of that vow, along with others that follow the same line of thinking.

Unlike many people my age, I want children. I want the chance to be a father, to teach a son and a daughter all that I know. I yearn for the chance to hold that bundle of joy. I’d take the 3 AM feeding and the endless crying and the diapers and all of it, if only I could hear the “I love you, Daddy” when I get home from work. As long as I can watch their eyes light up on Christmas morning, or see their expectant, hopeful faces as I unwrap my own Father’s Day gifts.

You won’t hear most men say it, but I’ll shout from the rooftops that I want to raise babies as much as I want to make them. To me, that is the ultimate goal of life. I’m without even one child, when I’m almost at the age at which my father was working on his fourth (whom I’ve never even met!), and I consider that my biggest failure by far. Everything else I’ve screwed up pales in comparison to the thought that I can’t accomplish the one thing life does. My one inherent purpose.

With each passing year, I get that much closer to the end of my time as a man physically capable of reproduction. If I reach that point with nothing to show for it…well, I try not to think about that. Doesn’t mean I’m successful.

So much of my depression and anxiety come back to that, especially this year. I’ve put enormous effort into getting my life on track, setting goals and whatnot, only to be beaten back at every turn by a world that has gone beyond uncaring and become actively antagonistic. I constantly feel like a failure, and that robs me of what little joy I have left, sending me further into the depths of despair.

I know I’m running out of chances, but what chance is there? I couldn’t support a family on minimum wage, I’m apparently unemployable for anything else, and starting my own business just isn’t possible until we push out the pandemic scaremongers.

My options are limited. My dreams are hanging on by the slimmest of threads. I’ve pushed away my truest friends, given up on those whose friendship was contingent, and isolated myself. Why? I think it’s because, deep down, I feel like….maybe it’ll hurt them less that way. Like a dog that runs away from its owner when it knows it’s going to die, I’m hiding to keep from hurting those I love.

Rationally, I know I’m often making it worse, but I’m reaching the point where I just can’t bring myself to care anymore. Are we really better off living in the fantasy of “things will get better” forever? I don’t think so. Things only get better if we make them, and I’ve tried that. I’ve given all I have, and I’ve got nothing to show for it but the pain of failure. Over and over again.

2021 may be my last chance in so many ways. I’m willing to become a revolutionary, if that’s what it takes. I will suffer so that others might be free. I love liberty more than myself. Depression has only changed the magnitude of that difference.

I’ll continue to write. If I can’t have children in the real world, I’ll create my own. The pride of seeing my name in print is still enough to bring a tear to my eye, and the steadily growing collection of paperbacks I’ve written is…something like a family, I guess.

As for the rest, I can’t say. Whatever happens, though, I know only I can fix me. And I’ll have to do it alone. Just like always.

On luck

Luck is a funny thing. Some people say it doesn’t exist. Others swear it does. Me? I’m conflicted on the subject, and here’s why.

I’ve stated my humanist leanings numerous times on here. I won’t say I deny the existence of deities or other supernatural or metaphysical elements. I simply believe that, if they do exist, they play little to no role in our daily lives. One look at the state of the world today is enough to support that notion, if you ask me.

But luck is different. While it might be considered metaphysical, it’s also quantifiable, in a sense. Take random chance, say the rolling of dice or drawing of cards. We can measure the positive and negative outcomes and, using statistical methods, determine the likelihood of each. Given enough samples, patterns might emerge. Anyone can have a run of good outcomes, a hot streak. Likewise, we’ve all experienced extended periods of bad outcomes. For most people, they tend to average out.

I’ve had my share of ridiculously bad luck. When I played online poker (before it was made illegal in the US in 2008), I got a royal flush once. That’s a rare outcome, around 1 in 31,000 hands for Texas Hold ’em. I also had a run of over 160 hands without being dealt a pocket pair: about 1 in 640,000 odds of that happening. You play enough, you tend to see some odd things, so no big deal. And we all knew that PokerStars was rigged to generate action, making that whole “3% chance to win on the river” more like a n 80% chance. (Fans of tactical strategy games and RPGs like XCOM and Fire Emblem understand my pain here.)

Running statistical tests on the hands I played and their outcomes showed that I did, in fact, lose more than I should have. Consistently. Not all of that can be chalked up to janky algorithms. Over the 4 years I was on PokerStars, I was about 1.5 standard deviations below the mean, so in the lowest 15% in terms of how likely I was to win based on the percentages.


Speaking of standard deviations, let me digress to a case where you might say I had extraordinarily good luck.

IQ tests are notoriously unreliable as indicators of absolute intelligence, as everyone knows, but they can be useful for comparison. If two people the same age, from roughly the same background, take the same test around the same time, then yes, you can compare their IQ. Get enough people like that, and you can start drawing a few conclusions. Not quite as many as proponents claim, but a few.

Now, IQ is traditionally defined as a normal distribution with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Thus, a person of “average” intelligence (for their age—this part is important!) has an IQ of 100. By the rules of math, about 68% of people have an IQ within one standard deviation of the mean, or in the range 85-115. Two standard deviations (70-130 IQ) covers around 95% of the population.

I’ve only taken one proper IQ test in my life, when I was 5 years old. (The one I took at age 9 was flawed for numerous reasons.) A funny thing I learned only recently is that those tests max out at 175. That makes sense. An IQ of 175 is five standard deviations above the mean, so 99.99994% of people are going to be just fine. But if you’re in that 0.00006%, what then?

Well, you get told that the people administering the test were “afraid to keep going.” In 1989, I didn’t know what that meant. In 2020, I understand that it was my mom’s way of saying that I hit the grading cap.


Yeah, I’m smart. So you could say I hit the lottery at birth, but everything since then? Not so much. Oh, I can hit those 1-in-10 and even 1-in-100 chances, but the bad ones certainly seem to outweigh the good. Parents divorcing during childhood? That was something like a 25% probability at the time. Major depression? Affects around 10-15% of Americans, myself included. The list goes on, and it has led, especially this year, to a lot of personal pessimism. I tend to expect the worse when I’m involved, for no other reason than I’m used to it.

Of course, some things I can control, to some extent. And those generally turn out decent, though rarely great. I take pride in my books, for instance; the only luck involved there is getting noticed, which I’ve yet to accomplish. It’s a similar story for the software I write. As long as I have a high degree of control over an outcome, I can make something out of it.

That’s not luck. That’s skill, determination, grit…whatever you want to call it, I’ve got it. If I’m working on my own, with my own deadlines and objectives, I’m good.

Only when other factors get involved does everything fall apart. Social situations, relationships, and my eternally unsuccessful job hunt are all good examples. Those aren’t situations where I can just try a little harder to push through to the end. It doesn’t work that way.

And that, I think, is what constitutes bad luck. It’s the state where, if you’re relying on someone or something beyond your control, you’re going to be let down more often than not. That does exist, whether you want to attribute it to probability (for every me, there’s surely someone with incredibly good luck; they tend to be CEOs, athletes, and politicians) or supernatural factors like curses. Honestly, I’d accept that I’m cursed—it would make a lot of things make more sense.

Until I see some evidence for that, however, I’ll continue to believe luck exists, and that I used all mine up for a brain that’s one in a million.

The mind and I

As I stated in a previous post, I’ve been undergoing therapy for my depression and anxiety. Of course, being in my financial situation, my options for this would be limited even without the Wuhan coronavirus scare. Thus, I had to turn to internet-based modes of therapy. And, as you know, some of the “cognitive behavioral” set actually did show results for me. It has helped me understand my mental state better, so I can recognize the hallmarks of deepening depression and prepare for them. It’s made me see the triggers for my anxiety, which lets me know how to plan around them.

The next step was to try something called “mindfulness”. I’ve been giving it a shot, and…I have to wonder if I’m wasting my time.

The problems are many. First and foremost, though, is that mindfulness is connected to meditation, and most meditation sources are geared toward India and Zen. No joke. Don’t believe me? Look up the phrase “mindful meditation” and see how many hits you get talking about monks, referencing Buddhism, quoting people most of the West has never heard of, or throwing in random Sanskrit terms.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Obviously, the practices have some benefit for some people, or else they wouldn’t have endured. But I think they’re given way too much credit simply for being exotic.

In roleplaying circles, there are a lot of running jokes, but one of the most familiar involves the katana. Strictly speaking, half the people talking about them don’t know which Japanese sword the word refers to, but they all agree that it absolutely must be the best. Why? Well, because it’s a katana, silly! No other reason than that. It’s from a different country, a different culture, and most Americans don’t have direct experience with that culture. Instead, we hear ninja and samurai legends. We watch anime or read manga. We play JRPGs. And that gives us a stilted, ahistorical view of Japan.

It’s the same way with India, and indeed Buddhism. Look at the popularity of yoga, or curry, or chai. Look at the way Tibetan monks are portrayed in the media. (Except that they’re mostly called “Chinese” to placate the Communist Party nowadays, despite Tibet historically being an independent nation.)

In the West, of course, we have the Abrahamic faiths, which provide a much different sort of mind-body-spirit breakdown, and so many of the culture contrasts flow from that. We think of ourselves differently, and that’s inherited. When we see an entire people—essentially a whole continent—so unlike our own, we might idolize it. That’s normal and natural. After all, ours sucks in a lot of ways. The problem is, theirs does, too. It just sucks in different ways.

But we never see that. We gloss over the downsides and fixate on the upsides. Think about the cuisine, for instance. Sure, a lot of people like Chinese food, but how many Americans would be willing to eat some of the things rural Chinese eat? Andrew Zimmern made an entire series based off this very notion: Bizarre Foods.

Religion and spirituality are no different. What we see as exotic and intriguing is, to the people who were born into it, the normal way of the world. Nothing special about it, not from their perspective, so why do we feel the need to idolize?


Okay, but the whole point of mindfulness is supposed to be that it isn’t Buddhism. It just takes some inspiration from it. But that, I think, has some bearing on why it just doesn’t click for me.

At least in the guides I followed, so much of the instruction revolved around frankly New Age notions. Look at your thoughts gently. The only moment that matters is now. You have to switch from doing to being.

I get that some of it is intended to combat the very natural internal criticism that leads to self-loathing and, ultimately, depression. It’s supposed to distract you from thinking about all that by focusing all your mental power on something else, something…trivial. Like your breathing.

This is where I ran into problems. Believe it or not, I’ve tried some things like this before. Hypnosis, for example. It doesn’t work well for me, and I know why. My mind is very, very analytical. I’ve always been a thinker. It’s only in recent years that thinking has led so often to worrying.

Since I’d give anything to make that stop, I thought I would try a system that promised to quiet the disturbed and disturbing thoughts. But it really doesn’t. Not mine, anyway.

It’s not that I can’t focus. As anyone who knows me will attest, I can get so focused on a task that I forget about everything else around me. However, that task has to have a purpose, or I get nothing out of it. I’ll get distracted, or I’ll think of some other way to spend my time, something more productive.

One of the biggest problems I’ve recognized with my thoughts lately is that I have developed a skewed sense of purpose. The things I should be focusing on fall by the wayside because, well, they’re too hard. Too hard, with too much risk of failure. So I get less done overall, and I end up making next to no progress, but inertia is powerful. And I’m just so tired of being frustrated at every turn. You can only fall so many times before you decide it’s not worth it to get back up.

I’ll admit, the mindfulness guides do directly reference this problem. They call it out, and they promise a way to fix it. I really wish I could make that way work, but I don’t see how I can do it. To do so, as I understand it, would require me to change everything about the way I think, decide, and act. I would have to reinvent myself. On a philosophical level, I have to wonder how much that’s even possible; surely, if I change too much, I’m not me anymore, right?

In the more personal (and familiar) sense, altering my behavior and thought patterns to that extent seems like an awful lot of effort for very little gain. I’d be giving up most of what sets me apart, the analysis, the thoughtfulness, the way I can often anticipate what someone’s going to say. And for what? Maybe relieving my depression and anxiety? (Not even that, really. The stated goals of mindfulness aren’t to “cure” the low moods and persistent worries. Rather, you’re supposed to learn to accept them and move on. Which sounds nice in theory, I guess.)

Again, I’m not saying this is a complete failure, or that nobody should try this sort of therapy. All I want to say is that I find it a poor fit for me. It goes against everything I’ve done for 37 years. It runs counter to the way I know my mind works. I think this “impedance mismatch” is a large part of the problem, but my natural skepticism adds to it.

Something isn’t better just because it comes from the other side of the world. It’s different. Nothing more, nothing less. As always, your mileage may vary. I’m an odd person in many respects, and that cultural skepticism is one of them. I don’t like anime. I’m not big on “ethnic” music.1 You probably won’t catch me at, say, a Thai restaurant. That’s just who I am. Trying new things, exploring, that’s fun. I love it. But they’re not always special simply for being exotic. Remember, the things we see as alien are, to those who live with them every day, normal. And to them, we’re the aliens.


  1. Okay, I will make an exception here, because “Baba Yetu” is an amazing song no matter who’s performing it.