Hospice 1: Two Tattoos

As long as I have known my father, he’s had a tattoo on his right bicep. It was just part of him: a rose with some red petals, green leaves, and a name underneath. It appeared when he was working in the yard, or hanging out at the beach, or splashing about in the cold rivers of central California. I didn’t give it much thought. I always assumed he got it when he was in the army, like everyone else in his generation.

This week I learned the full story. In 1946, on his 18th birthday, he decided to “do something wild” and got himself good and drunk, then somehow made his way to the local inking emporium and related the story of his current infatuation: Leora. She was an “ultra-beautiful girl” and he had fallen hard for her. He wanted to get a tattoo, and it “had to be her name.”

I asked my father if he had stumbled into the shop and pointed at the designs on the wall, and said, “That’s it! Number 6. Give me that one! But make it with Lenora.” But he didn’t. His recollection was that he sat down with the artist on duty, described Leora and all her glory, and the guy set to work (not doubt puffing away on an unfiltered Camel).

Leora was apparently not impressed enough by this sign, and went on her way. My father continued his romantic adventures until my future mother agreed to his proposal.

Frank Schlosser, Germany
Frank Schlosser in Germany, post WWII
Rose tattoo
Faded rose

When we visited my father in hospice two days ago, it was the first time we’d seen him since Christmas. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was allowed in the room, but my spouse and daughter had to stand outside and basically wave through the window. They could also talk a bit, but between masks and bad hearing aids, it wasn’t ideal.

My daughter Lilly-Karin turned 18 this past January, and she had decided long before then that she would mark the occasion with a tattoo. Of course, these days, you have to be at least 18 (or have written permission from your parent/guardian). Showing up hammered will get you thrown out of a respectable shop, and no one is smoking Camels or anything else. Times change.

So my teen did a lot of research, saved her babysitting money, and then borrowed the car on her birthday. She went to a shop recommended by her friends and walked the artist through her design: a flower. A California poppy, to be exact. Since she has flowers in her name, she wanted to continue the theme, and also celebrate her birthplace.

She showed up late for dinner, apologetic, but happy that she had staked out her first mark of adulthood.

When my father heard the story, he was delighted to announce a new connection to his granddaughter, but wished he could see her ink. I took a picture later that afternoon, printed up a copy, and delivered it the next day.

Golden poppy tattoo
Eschscholzia californica, California poppy

He was very happy, and proceeded to thank me for bringing such a unique being into the world. (Not that I had much choice in the matter – Lilly-Karin has always chosen her own path.)

Anyone who has spent time with a dying family or friend knows that at the end, the stories come out — good and bad — and you do your best to reconcile that information with your own experience and feelings.

My father and I were close at times, but often distant. Now that he is gently slipping into that good night I am pleased that we had this additional moment to share at the end.

Hug your loved ones, if you can.

Poetry and the Pandemic

I wrote “Seven Cups of Landfall” last year, well before we had any idea of the coming pandemic. The poem is not thematically linked in any way to the illness, or the Shelter in Place. In fact, it comes from a image I had for a story — seven cups lined up on a shelf, somewhere on an alien world. But the story never materialized, and the few lines that I wrote as part of a speech for one of the characters eventual became a seven-stanza poem.

That’s what writers do — we repurpose and recycle. If a character doesn’t fit here, then it might work there. And that cool visual that messes up the flow of a scene? Nail it to the wall of a new chapter.

The last poem I published was a lifetime ago, in 1994, when I was teaching English Comp 101 at community colleges in Tacoma, Washington. One of the faculty members edited a poetry magazine and asked the staff to volunteer some words.

My contribution was something of an homage to all those dead white guys I studied in college and forced my own students to read. It was, well, let’s call it derivative. I still enjoy parts of it, though, and it reminds me that I can achieve writer goals (“Sell a poem!”) even if it takes a long time.

Now I need to get back to making new words, and wearing my mask when I leave the house because a virus and human stupidity are trying to kill us all.

Wash your hands. Stay safe. Maybe read some poetry.

Another one escapes the trunk

Stupendous Stories Showcase

Writers have trunks, literal or virtual, which we fill with the unloved, the uncompleted, the unsold, and the leftovers. Stuff we liked, stuff we loved, stuff that for one damn reason or another never found a home.

Sometimes there are Very Good Reasons you don’t sell a story/novel. Bad prose. Unlikable characters. Annoying dialog. Other times… it’s just the Wrong Market or the Wrong Time or We Like it But We Won’t Buy It.

“The Carpetbaggers Ball” is one such story. I wrote it a *long* time ago, and it’s part of a series of First Person Who Isn’t Really Karl stories that could probably fill an anthology. This one had its roots in my decade in Los Angeles, and I was playing around with some of my usual themes: isolation, loss, music, and the 1%.

I received a lot of praise and encouragement, though the story soon joined the ranks of We Like it But We Won’t Buy it. It was a bit long, and needed a stronger arc for the MC. The basic premise (body swapping through tech) also turned off some people who thought that particular trope was mined out.

Fortunately, the editor at Stupendous Stories had a different opinion. He liked it, and wanted to buy it. Unfortunately, after he committed to the sale his own module of Mundane Reality™ threw some serious errors, and the publication went on hiatus (see The Almost Lost Year).

Fortunately for me, and the magazine’s fans, the editor managed to bring Mundane Reality™ under control sufficiently to produce a new e-pub (with print versions coming Real Soon Now). I downloaded a copy and re-read it to check for typos or other annoyances to correct in the next edition. Much to my surprise, I still liked “Carpetbaggers.” It feels true to the time I wrote it, and even resonates well now.

I hope you had a chance to download the free copy. If not, you can toss a few coins at Amazon and get one now. Or wait for the print copy.

The trunk is getting empty.

2019 – The Almost Lost Year

It’s odd thinking of 2019 as “last” year. So close to “lost.” Indeed, 2019 was almost a lost year in many respects.

I drafted this blog the other day but realized after 1,000 words that I was wandering. It didn’t help that I’m still fighting the flu/holiday crud. So let’s shift to bullet points, eh?

Major themes of 2019:

  • my daughter’s preparation for college
  • changes in my professional life
  • my aging parents
  • oh yes, that writing thing

The teen

  • Applying to college is HARD
  • There is research, online visits, physical visits, tests, more tests, essays, and auditions if you’re a theatre kid
  • Trying to balance all that while maintaining good grades is well, trying
  • Costs are insane. We’ve been saving since she was born and it’s still going to be tricky. (It’s also the reason I’m still working unpleasant jobs.)
  • Early on, we threw in the towel and hired an admissions counselor. It’s not the same thing as the Varsity Blues scandal.

While there are still applications pending, I am relieved to report that at least one theatre program has extended an invitation and some scholarship money. We won’t know the final outcome for several months but my wife and I can start thinking that yeah, maybe we didn’t screw this one up.

Day job

  • Started looking for a new job in mid-2018 following Kyocera’s corporate realignment and departure of my best friend on the team
  • Found a small, ninja-like team at Kaiser who were doing interesting things in WordPress and U/X
  • Abandoned regular employment for a new contract, only to discover that upper management had been working on a major reorg
  • In the space of a few months, my senior manager retired, my manager retired, the technical liaison quit, the marketing writer quit, and several contractors were eliminated
  • The two remaining folks from the original team had to re-apply for their jobs with a very secretive, inflexible, bureaucratic-worshipping cult based in Inda.
  • I started looking for work again in mid-2019

On the plus side, my new line manager is much more open to remote work, which has been a gift considering the situation with my parents.

The Elders

Back in 2018, the entire family got together to discuss moving my father into an assisted living facility. He was still pretty functional, despite multiple bouts of cancer and other age-related issues (he turned 90 that year). Unfortunately, he delayed the move, and his physical and mental condition deteriorated.

  • Last summer, he ended up under psychiatric observation following a low-key incident at his local ER.
  • Upon release from the hospital, he went into physical rehab, then into a memory care residence. The transition was not handled well.
  • The ensuing problems have meant a lot of time on the phone and driving down to Central California to deal with stuff.
  • My mother is also dealing with various age-related illnesses and can no longer manage the house by herself.
  • Fortunately, one of my nieces lives nearby and helps out a lot, but it’s not really her job.
  • My siblings and I continue to work to try to find a resolution for their separate housing and preserving their finances.
  • The holidays were stressful. Full stop.

Stress and Writing

  • Too often, I found myself tired or stressed or sick, and the thought of tromping into the word mines was overwhelming.
  • I didn’t publish anything in 2019.
  • I sold two stories to the same magazine (in 2018 and 2019) but the magazine’s publisher had his own family and job challenges, which delayed and delayed the issues. In fact, I’m still waiting.
  • I worked on a lot of stories but only finished one new flash piece for a contest.
  • Managed to send out lots of submissions, though, and received several encouraging notes from editors.
  • I participated in NaNoWriMo. That helped.
  • It also helped that I organized my first writing retreat — Write Here Write Now 2019 — in Baltimore. Some very patient, good folks showed up and put in words. We had some much-needed fun.
  • The Nebula Awards conference in Woodland Hills also charged the battery. Seeing Space X was very cool.

Looking ahead to 2020

  • More self-care. I had three separate, nasty bouts of flu/bronchitis/crud in 2019. I lost about a month.
  • More writing and less news. The political world is a spinning dumpster fire on the best of days.
  • More reading – so many good things by good people. Why not enjoy that?
  • Letting go. The teen has reached her 18th birthday and will be heading off to college. Time to stop worrying about the little stuff.
  • Dealing with the inevitable. One or both of my parents may pass away soon.
  • Tea and whiskey.

A quick note about NaNoWriMo 2019

Since my novelette/novel concept has to be completely replotted (and that’s a digression for another day), I’ve decided to use November — specifically NaNoWriMo — as my motivation to finish/edit/get to Beta readers 4 short stories. One per week! It’s like my own lazy Clarion workshop!

Included in the lineup is my short story draft from WriteHereWriteNow, a novella that’s been kicking my ass for mumble, mumble months, a fantasy piece, and an odd flash story that seemed really easy when I first conceived it but is now demanding a bigger trailer and top billing.

Good luck, everyone!

Death has two speeds

My experience of Death falls into two general categories: quick and slow. There never seems to be a middle ground, a saunter. You either see it coming and have time to prepare (and fret and worry), or bang! It’s right there, and you deal with it mostly in the rearview mirror.

My father is fading. He’s nearly 91 years old, and it’s clear to anyone with even a modicum of medical training that he’s not long for this life. To his credit, he is the last survivor of 9 (!) siblings, and has set a new endurance record for his bloodline.

It’s no small feat to push yourself into nine decades; it’s even more impressive when you consider the time he lived — standards for healthcare were much lower, nutrition was worse, the air pollution in most major cities was worse, and seat belts and antibiotics  and yoga classes didn’t exist.

My father has survived a tour as a paratrooper during the latter part of WW2, 60 years of tobacco use, 70+ years of drinking, a bout of cancer, lifelong anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, and the Catholic church. But his main spring is winding down. Mentally and physically, he’s batting in the bottom half of the ninth inning.

The very languid approach of death has given the family a lot of time — perhaps too much — to deal with the challenges of his later  life care. Thus far, he has stayed at home but at a very high cost, physically and emotionally. The last few years have been an exercise in simmering grief.

Very soon I expect to get the phone call that tells me that he’s passed, or is in the hospital, attached to expensive machines trying to eke out another few weeks of life. Then I’ll put the grieving process into full speed, and deal with it.

But it’s really tiring.

Karl and Frank

Frank’s 90th Birthday

Then there’s the quick death. The unexpected fatality. The oh-shit-I-just-talked-to-them-yesterday moment.

I met Chris Cornell at a writing workshop in Texas, and was delighted to discover that he lived only one town over. I enjoyed his writing, his humor, his gentleness, and his generosity. When he started a publishing company and invited me to submit a story to a new anthology, I was happy to participate. It was a great experience and I looked forward to future collaborations.

I last saw Chris two weeks ago at the Nebula Awards conference in southern California. He was happy and full of life.

He died on Monday night. I got the news on Tuesday. Apparently, he was riding the local transit (BART) and just keeled over.

I realize there are many invisible health issues — high-blood pressure, for example, but I hadn’t heard anything and he was still relatively young. There were decades of stories waiting to come out.

Death, however, came swiftly for Chris, and now his family and many friends are heartbroken, shattered.  There is a collective shock and disbelief that has only begun to settle into grief.

I’m still processing, of course. But I do know there will be one less glass raised at our next writing getaway.

Just as there will be one less place set at my parents’  table in the near future.

Fast or slow, Death comes, so keep your eyes open. Hug your loved ones.

Raise a glass.

Chris reading from ABANDONED PLACES at Book Passage, San Francisco

karl reading in San Francisco

Launch of ABANDONED PLACES anthology

Nebula Weekend 2: Mentoring, Awards, and Bronchitis, Oh My

In which our Hero wrestles with Imposter Syndrome and Reconnects with Old Friends

Day 2 of the Nebula Weekend found me joining a host of brave volunteers for the second part of the Mentor Meetup. I was assigned two bright-eyed new writers and given 50 minutes to impart All The Wisdom. Poor kids. I opened the tap full blast, and between coughing fits, challenged them to attend a serious workshop (hello, Viable Paradise!), find tough beta readers, create a process, abandon the process, and overall keep the faith. This is art, dammit. No actual egos were harmed. I think.

I also sat in at the usual SFWA Business Meeting, which was much improved by the presence of Aliza Greenblatt, fellow VP16 alum and freaking Nebula-nominated person. (Sadly, she didn’t win, but I cannot believe this will be her only time on the ballot.)

For the afternoon, I caught a quick nap, hoping to quell my symptoms, and then did a couple of hours of KP duty in the Hospitality Suite, where I met more cool people and got to listen to John Scalzi’s philosophy on burritos (he’s a descriptivist, rather than a prescriptivist). He also confirmed the story of how he wrote The Consuming Fire in 2 weeks. Seriously.

Friday night was dinner with fellow writer and all-around good person, Rosemary Smith, purveyor of quality dinosaur stories. Rosemary helped me beta test Write Here, Write Now in Baltimore two weeks prior.

Saturday was full of special writer goodness. I attended the interview with this year’s Grand Master recipient, William Gibson, who related some pretty funny stories about his brief time as a screenwriter, and the fact that his last novel had to be completely torn down and rebuilt due to the timeline disruption caused by the 2016 elections. Later that afternoon, I helped schlep camera gear for the official photographer (the great Richard Man), who used me as a proxy for Mr. Gibson so the Grand Master didn’t have to wait while lights were calibrated. Turns out he and I share a similar build and hairline, although he’s a tad taller.

The Mass Autographing event gave me an opportunity to get books signed by William Gibson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Derek Künsken, Sam J. Miller, and Fran Wilde. I’m happy to report that Mary Robinette’s novel, The Calculating Stars, won the Nebula award for Best Novel later that evening.

My table at the Nebula Awards banquet ended up being relatively close to the stage, so I had a good view of the actual proceedings (although two excellent video screens provided full coverage). My table companions included another Viable Paradise alum (Aimee Picchi), a seasoned pro (Jeffrey A. Carver), and other volunteers, partners, and even a freshly minted writer who’d never attended any event before. Good on him. I don’t think I’d be that brave.

The awards featured a new category, game writing, which was very popular, and plenty of quality contenders for the usual fiction (short, novella, novelette, and novel). Happy to say that many works I read and enjoyed ended up on the ballot and a few of them even won.

I was too tired to attend any of the after parties, so retreated to my room for some light reading and much-needed sleep.

Sunday started off with a (slightly delayed) volunteer breakfast. This was Cat Rambo’s last year as SFWA’s President, and she graciously thanked us all for the continuing spirit of paying it forward. I got in a few more panels, including a thought-provoking discussion on gender and writing (with Futurescapes buddy Jordan Kurella), and listened with great amusement as several pros described their various personal writing habits and hacks. Some good ideas there.

My best friend Dan Malcor (with his new love, Cora) came up from Orange County to transport me back to the airport. Since we had a few hours, we decided to do a spontaneous trip to the Getty Museum. This branch of the museum wasn’t open when I last lived in Los Angeles, so it was a real treat. The weather was nearly perfect, and the view from the upper deck showed the Valley in all its springtime glory:

LA as seen from Getty Museum

Getty looking south

Due to the recent rains, the main gardens were closed, but the exhibits were open. We had a lovely time, and found this one example that we promptly dubbed, “Dude Christ”:

Casual Jesus portrait

The Savior Abides

Karl, Dan, and Cora

I get cultural with Dan and Cora

Eventually we had to trek back over the hills to Burbank, where a very late, very full flight brought me home. It’s a good thing I had upgraded my seating earlier, because even boarding early (in the rain!) I could barely manage to get my carry-on into the overhead bins. Very grateful the actual flight time was barely an hour.

Monday – ugh. Back at work, coughing. Less said, the better.

There were many other people I wish to thank for a great, affirming weekend, but I can’t remember them at the moment. You know who you are. I’ll buy you an absinthe next time we met.

Nebula Weekend 1: Space!

The 2019 Nebulas arrived at an interesting confluence of mundane reality — I was just coming off my Write Here, Write Now weekend in Baltimore, still dealing with bronchitis, and trying to change my contract to a new company so I could keep my current job (and applying for the same job as a full-time employee). It’s complicated.

Because I didn’t have any vacation time (the life of the contractor), I worked until the last minute, and picked up an early flight from Oakland to Burbank. However, what should have been a one-hour hop turned into something more due to unseasonable storm activity. The airline topped off the plane’s fuel in case we had to re-route, but the flight was overbooked, which meant they now had a very full, very heavy aircraft. The solution? Shunt the last-minute ticket purchasers (and their luggage) to another flight.

So I arrived later than I wanted, and took my carry-on to the shuttle to the hotel in Woodland Hills. Due to the nature of LA traffic, we used rough city streets rather than the freeway, and the driver had his phone set to squawk like a startled parrot every time he received a text.

He got a lot of texts.

My room wasn’t ready at the hotel, despite promises of early arrival, so I registered and picked up the bulging Bag o’ Books that comes with the conference. So many excellent and interesting things to read! I ended up storing my luggage (and my medication — oops) with the front desk because I had to meet up with my tour group for Space X.

Thanks to some local connections, the conference had organized a tour of SpaceX for some of the volunteers, and my name was picked. It meant a long drive through fabled LA traffic (which could have been much worse, to be honest) but we arrived with time to spare. (Unlike the second group, which took an Uber that apparently disagreed with Google Maps and got lost in a parking lot.)

You can’t take photos inside SpaceX, although they have one of their Falcon boosters in the parking lot for selfies. (Named after the Millenium Falcon. Of course.)

Inside the facility, there were fanciful travel posters for alien worlds, movie props (a suit from Iron Man 2) and more flat panels displays than a Las Vegas trade show.

There were also rockets. Engines, fairings, frameworks, nuts and bolts and strange valves, many of which were printed on site.

I was surprised that only a small portion of the shop floor was set aside as clean room space (for the Dragon capsules). Most of the heavy assembly took part in the open, much like the repair section of a high-end car dealership. The tour guide took us through a clearly delineated path, but you could literally reach out (past the safety rope) and touch an engine that might one day boost a satellite into orbit, or lift an astronaut to the ISS.

For me, SpaceX felt more like a big software company that also played with big hardware. The vibe was intense, but friendly, and there was a familiar tribal energy of We’re Doing The Cool Thing.

It wasn’t all geekery. The astronaut liaison related the story of her meeting with families of the test pilots. When one boy told her to “take care of his daddy” she recognized the heavy responsibility that she and the other employees shared. If they didn’t do their jobs well, people could die. It was sobering.

Elon Musk is doing some interesting projects in the world (tunnels? really?), but I truly hope that this venture succeeds. We really do need to get people off the planet, and it’s groups like this that are going to do it. Also, having cheaper worldwide internet service wouldn’t hurt.

Write Here, Write Now 2019

Write Here, Write Now name button for Karl, Benevolent Overlord

DIY fancy buttons

I recently returned from Baltimore, where I hosted my first writing retreat weekend, Write Here, Write Now. After a long absence from my tribe, and the hiatus of Paradise Lost, I decided to put together my own getaway.

As you might imagine, it turned out to be a complicated enterprise, given that my job was in chaos, my father’s health was in decline, and I didn’t rope in any help apart from reaching out to folks about local options.

My writing community is spread out from western Canada to Florida, so I ran a series of surveys to get buy in on location, activities, available hotels, and budget. In the end, Baltimore edged out Chicago for both number of potential attendees and hotel prices. (San Diego was also a strong contender but hotels were crazy expense in late April/early May.) I did manage to convince the nice people at Hilton that WHWN 2019 was a legitimate business meeting, and thus shaved a few bucks off their best published rate.

In the end, we had 11 confirmed attendees plus a potential cameo or two. That many people didn’t quite fit into the Benevolent Overlord Suite, and we ended up using another room for some of our group activities.

Two of the participants, Gary Henderson and Lauren Roy, were part of my class at Viable Paradise XVI. Lauren and I hadn’t crossed paths since 2012, and it was a joy to see her again.

Unfortunately, I caught a pretty nasty bug (the crud) a few days before the event and was sorely tempted to cancel. Since I owned the weekend, and it was the first time, I didn’t want to disappoint.

Let’s just say the flight there was hellish (ear infections and pressure changes do not mix well).

I was met at the airport by one of my long-time Paradise Lost tribe, and thus was saved the pain of navigating a strange city while exhausted and under the weather.

Most of the mob gathered for a casual dinner on Thursday at Kippo Ramen. I was in the mood for soup and we had not one, but two ramen virgins in our group. We had to go. Excellent food within a short walk from the hotel.

Everything we did was a short walk away. One of our number was very pregnant, and I was sick, so that factored heavily in our plans.

Friday morning I “officially” opened the event, laying out the basic rules, which were basically NO SPOILERS and ASK FIRST BEFORE YOU HUG SOMEONE.

After coffee and carbs — featuring homemade scones from Gary’s talented chef housemate — we split up into writing and critique groups. After lunch, there was more critiquing, then plot breaking. Despite my lack of energy and ragged voice, I enjoyed the back and forth, heard many good ideas, and had a generally fine time.

For dinner, the mob traipsed over to Little Italy, where pasta and excellent cannoli were acquired. After dinner, of course, we met up again for libations and silly games (Flux, Werewolf*, Cards Against Humanity).

For the weekend, I brought Alameda vodka and absinthe, plus Writers’ Tears irish whiskey, and absinthe. Other participants kicked in spirits from Italy, Greece, and plenty of American things. One writer, Shannon, proved to be an excellent mixologist.

Saturday saw more story breaking in the morning and afternoon as people found it useful and brought in more novels to kick around. I took a break and visited a local Minute Clinic, where a very professional Licensed Nurse Practitioner hooked me up with some antibiotics to go with my cornucopia of over the counter meds. (The CVS pharmacy and Whole Foods were located a block from the hotel, which was good news  for everyone.)

Saturday night we ordered in some very good local pizza, then tried our best to empty the bar and talk ourselves hoarse. I think I had an advantage there.

Sunday found us gathering for one last session of plot breaking, conversation, and the breaking of the fellowship. I divested myself of anything that couldn’t be carried on the aircraft, which turned out not to be necessary since an overly full flight meant I had to check my bag anyway.

<How could I forget? We celebrated Cinco de Mayo at a local taco joint that had astonishingly diverse dance music blasting upstairs, plus infomercials and lacrosse playing on competing televisions. Great food, though.>

Folks drove off, leaving my friend Rosie and I chilling in the hotel lobby on a rainy afternoon. She was headed for the train and I had several hours to kill before my flight to Nashville…

…which was rescheduled, forcing me to scramble to make a missed connection. Ironically, I ended up flying to Chicago (where I go frequently to visit my mother-in-law), then back to Oakland. Total travel time > 12 hours.

I splurged on the flight for WiFi and caught up on Game of Thrones and a new Netflix series, Derry Girls. (Yes, I had books to read but my brain just couldn’t.)

All in all, I had a good trip, met some online folks in person, and did the writing thing. I hope that the participants will stay connected and expand the tribe a bit more.

The surveys from the weekend are still trickling in, though the trend is very positive. If my work and family schedule align next year, I might be persuaded to do this again.

"Benevolent Overlord" mug

Mug courtesy of Terri!

*According to our game moderator, we truly sucked at this. The werewolves ate the hell out of the villagers, even after I accidentally outed myself as a shapeshifter.

The Squatter and the Podcast

This past week I hit another milestone: first podcast appearance! I learned about The Word Count podcast through Marie Haskins, whom I met as a fellow contributor to the Abandoned Places anthology.

What is unusual about this podcast is the authors do the primary narration, and the host, the fab RB Wood, adds the intro and writer bios.

Now, I’ve never done this sort of voice work before. I’ve recorded dialog for training software, but never a complete story. This one, “Burial Detail,” runs about 1,000 words, which clocks in just under 7 minutes. I was on deadline, so I did one rehearsal, then recorded it. (In retrospect, I could have practiced more.)

What surprised me most when I listened to the playback was the timbre of my voice. It had gone from “rough baritone” to “broken baritone that really needs to hydrate more.” I’m not a smoker, and I wasn’t sick before the recording. Apart from the normal aging process, the primary alteration to my voice has been come about because of  The Squatter.

You may remember that I had a tumor removed from my sinus back in 2016. It turned out to be more annoying than we first thought, and required a second cleanup surgery. That procedure, while successful, also streamlined my breathing passages.

You’d think that’d be a good thing, right? It is, up to a point. You want the air to flow, but as I’ve learned, you always want a certain rough texture to the sinus cavity to retain moisture. Without the nooks and crannies, the normal mucus just goes where it will, and that means excessive drainage (in certain sleeping positions) and — ironically — drier air. Over time, that continual irritation has changed my voice.

Not many people are thrilled when they hear their own voice via recording as opposed to their own skull. For me, it almost sounds like a stranger.

Not sure if I’ll be looking to do my own readings in the future. With luck and perseverance, I’ll sell to markets that can hire that sort of talent.

I’m okay with that. And I’ll take the hit on my voice over a brain-threatening tumor any day.