Thursday, January 04, 2018

I joined the US Navy (well, thirty years ago)

January 4, 1988 I boarded a bus to the Naval Training Center in Orlando Florida. It's gone now, a park.
While there, towards the end of the first week I began to pray for someone in my company to die. He sounded like he was going to. He had a dry, hacking cough that was so loud and... abrupt, that the fire bell over the door would resonate and continue to ring after he had a coughing fit. It served to bridge the slight pauses between his coughing fits that lasted all night long. I'm sure he was miserable because I was. He didn't die. Finally I got to sleep. I'm not sure if his cough stopped or if I just finally collapsed after nights of not sleeping because of his noise. I know it happened multiple nights, many, many, many nights and I hated him for it well after it stopped because I didn't trust it to stay gone.

After completing basic training I stayed there in Orlando but moved over to the Naval Training Center, just across the base, where I attended Nuclear Field "A" School as a Machinist Mate. When I finished that I changed buildings to go to Nuclear Power School and did really well in that. That I loved.

FINALLY the reason I'd joined. Science. Nuke stuff. I loved it. I didn't ace it, but I was in the top of the class. As our class dwindled, the attrition rate was huge on the "dark side." It was called the "dark side" because the classes were hard enough that you never saw the light of day because you were studying so much you never got outside. Well, sort of.

Remember the cougher from the first paragraph? He was also in school, but he was still in "A" School for "Electronics Tech" which went longer, and then he was in Power School, but I was still ahead of him. He had plenty of free time and I was doing well enough, even on the dark side, that we hung out a lot. Went to a lot of movies.

I listened to Def Lepard's Hysteria and Guns 'n Roses' Appetite for Destruction on repeat just about non-stop for most of that time. Those are still two of my favorite albums ever. Not just because they're great albums, but because of where I was geographically, and in my life at the time. It was fun and warm, and we were in Orlando, Florida. You know what there is to do in Central Florida when you're young and have no bills? Everything. That's what there is to do.

I bought a car, a white Renault Encore that was, when I looked at the owner's manual, originally owned by a lady from a place called Ogden, Iowa. When I bought it I didn't know I'd soon be moving to a town about 45 miles from there.

So, long story short, too late. That guy with the cough? We wound up getting married last year so we don't introduce each other as "old Navy buddies" quite as often as we did for decades.

So, happy anniversary of joining the world's greatest navy, and I'm glad he didn't die from pneumonia... I guess.

Monday, January 01, 2018

For the sake of your readers get an editor

It's the time of year when book giveaways are at an all time high, and for that I'm very appreciative. I enjoy reading a lot. I've been reading for ages. It's probably my oldest hobby.

I wrote a book. It's not easy. I have read many books through the years and thought, "I could do better than that!" Having written one I know now that it's not as easy as it seems. It's just just hurling words at a page to see what sticks, and just because a person can TELL a story doesn't mean they can write one. There's a difference.

  • Get an editor.
  • Get yourself an editor.
  • Get an editor for your book.
  • Make sure your book has an editor.
  • Get your book edited by an editor.
  • Hire an editor and listen to their advice. Stephen King said the editor is God. 

I'm trying to think of how I can say this so it'll stick. It's hugely important. You know, I'd try two if I'm honest. If you only get one, make sure you've got male and female beta readers and listen especially close to the opposite gender and ask them, directly, for feedback on how that gender is handled.

The last three free books I started, yes, started, but didn't necessarily finish, could have ALL been better with editors, possibly even really really good. They had good ideas in them. What they didn't have, was an editor. I won't list the names of the books or the authors. I didn't review any of them because I know starting out is hard. They're new authors. They need feedback more than being publicly pilloried. So, I sent feedback. But, with an editor I doubt they'd have made the mistakes they made. I'm not quoting, I'm paraphrasing. I don't want to have to credit them. You'll think I'm exaggerating in my paraphrasing, but I'm absolutely not.

1) Be careful what you shine a light on. When you want to show what a modern, great, open-minded person your protagonist is be careful about it. "She was supremely confident, but she managed it without losing her femininity," sort of implies that mostly when a woman is competent she's not feminine. Not your goal I'm sure. Kinda makes you look like an ass. "I didn't love her. I RESPECTED HER!" Um, okay. Good for you. That pretty rare for you then? Even more rare than love? Damn. That sucks. Hopefully an editor, or maybe even a beta reader, would've noticed that. Oh, a note on beta readers. Friends and family are the easiest to get, but they're the kindest and you don't need kind. You need honest. Find a stranger who doesn't "know what you mean" or "know he doesn't it mean it like that." If it's not in the book it's not there. Your intentions, your attitudes, your lofty ideals, if they're not on the page I can't see them. I can't know you and I don't know them. Maybe you're a 21st century man with modern attitudes, but if you don't express them plainly in the book you can really screw this up. Get some people who don't know you to read your stuff because, hopefully, at some point, people who don't know you will read your stuff. That's the idea isn't it?

2) The protagonist, a man ,is broken and becomes a homeless drunk, when his girlfriend dies. In the same book his female partner dies and it motivates him to do stuff. There were two women in the book, two... there's not even a waitress in it to bring him coffee, and both died to move the man along a story line. That's not what femme fatale means. In fact, that's more like fatale femme. Women and kids don't exist just to kill them to move the plot. If that's all your using them for... get a dog. It worked for John Wick.

3) An editor will help you not use the wrong words, a man on a buoy in the ocean doesn't scan the parameter. He looks around. There's not even a perimeter there unless there's some defined border, and that'd be the horizon in this case. I know, you want to sound militaristic and give it a military vibe, and you want to sound more clever than saying "he looked around" but you know what? Sometimes simple is best. Especially when it's right. Especially when the word you used instead is wrong in meaning and spelling.

All three of these books had good ideas in them. All three had characters in them I either liked or wanted to like. Those are two of the three boxes I need ticked to keep reading an author. The third though, is "well written." I don't mean Great Gatsby level well. I'm pretty forgiving, especially of new authors, like I said, I am one. But I'm not forgiving of people being lazy. And, not hiring an editor is lazy. Editors don't have to be ridiculously expensive. Some are, and some are better than others, but if you can afford a professionally done book cover you can afford an editor. You really can't afford not to have one. Those three books by three different authors? I read some of their free book. I won't read more. I certainly won't pay for their books until I see an editor credited.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I said yes

I've been roommates, best friends, Navy buddies, and long-distance besties with someone for almost thirty years now. On April 2, 1988 I knew it was a thing when he agreed to go see Beetlejuice with me a second time even though my loud laugh embarrassed him.

We talked about it, I nagged him into talking about it about ten years ago and he wasn't up for it then. There were familial concerns on both our parts. His family is important to me and I wouldn't want to alienate them and the whole idea was still sort of new at the time so we waited.

I'd left it at that. Unbeknownst to me, he hadn't. He'd talked to several of them without me knowing about it both then, in the intervening years, and again recently.

I was completely surprised when he asked me if I still wanted to marry him and I found myself holding an already mostly filled out marriage application. I grinned like an idiot and said "yes." It turns out there's a three-day wait between getting the license and being able to get married in Iowa. I wasn't willing to risk him changing his mind so I found a district judge willing to waive the waiting period and thirty hours after he asked me if I still wanted to we were standing in front of the magistrate. His Mom who wasn't a fan of it for religious reasons and who I did NOT think would show up, did. I was glad she did. Otherwise, it was just two friends of ours to serve as witnesses.

Through the legal hoops and getting signatures, I was constantly surprised at how happy for us the people seemed. There wasn't any shocked recoiling or clutching at pearls and swooning at the idea of two guys getting married. Nobody was anything but excited in any of the various offices I visited. Even the judge who had hurt his hand when the guard fell off a leaf blower he was using was in the spirit of it all.

What I found most surprising though was how, in spite of us being so close for so long, and not believing this would change much, we both got nervous trembling excited voice and big stupid grins when saying the vows to each other. I hadn't expected that from me, and certainly not from super-stoic him. It made me smile.

Shortly after the ceremony in front of the judge I ran to the coffee shop, because I do that whenever there is any sort of opening in my schedule and I said to the barista, a long time friend, that since I was hitched now I could finally let myself go. He laughed. Half an hour later my phone rang, "You know what I just realized? I can let myself go now!" I laughed and told him what I'd said to Kaleb and he laughed too. "I guess we do think alike."

So, yeah. We're married now, and I'm pretty happy about it.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

It was a good day...

Soldier Creek Winery vineyard
Some days lately I don't do much. I don't mean I don't do much productive. I mean I don't do much period. I'm going off of an anti-depressant and one of the side effects is I'm tired all the time. Another is that I'm irritable sometimes and another is that I get paranoid sometimes. Now, all those things sound manageable when I know they're about to happen... and to someone who's never experienced it, it sounds pretty minor. And, really, considering the lists of side-effects some people go through, they really are minor. It's only really troublesome when I don't recognize that it's unreasonable. It seems like it would be something you'd notice right away, but that's the funny thing about the brain... it's pretty good at believing what it perceives is real actually IS real. And most of the time, for most people that's true. But sometimes when it gets confused it's not helpful. And then getting a confused mind to convince itself that it's confused so it can relax and stop panicking or wanting to throw something heavy across the room is harder than you'd think. But, I manage. It'll go away soon... pretty sure anyway.

New coasters from a vendor at the winery.
When you go from one stop light to the next and notice the car behind you is STILL behind you and a fight or flight response kicks in because you're now convinced they're following you and mean you harm, complete with shallow breathing and trying to figure out a plan because somehow my response to fear is anger so I go from momentarily frightened to furious... it's really exciting. Now, mostly I'm able to catch myself and point out that I'm being irrational and this is, in fact, simply my brain juices sloshing around wildly as things get back to normal... mostly. I'm tapering off them, but it's sort of a big taper and that's okay. Once things settle down at the new lower dose I'll evaluate if I should go down again or just stay there for a while. I would like to know if they're working; if I need them or not anymore. But it's hard to tell if I don't go off them, you know? I think I'm better, which the doctor tells me means they're working... or I'm better. Which is it? Hard to tell lol. I'll figure it out. No worries. Oh, and if anybody reads the list and sees suicide as one of them, well, it is, but knowing that is a thing there are currently no guns in the house. I'm not a complete idiot... also, less likely to shoot the mailman delivering a package this way too. Can't trust my brain right now. It lies to me and I believe it.

Chicago dog, music by some buddies and grape stomping
But while it's happening it's really real... like the kind of real in a dream where you know it's a dream but you still have to get away from that THING that's just behind you in the dark that you can hear but you can't see? You know you're dreaming but you can't stop yourself. You feel the terror, the fear, the panic. Well, that's what this is like sometimes. I don't get it as much when I don't go out so I stay home and play video games or sleep. Or I work... a lot. I've worked 7 of the past 8 days. That's a lot of 12 hours shifts lol.

Today though, I went to bed about 7AM (I'm on nights and got off work at 6AM) Woke up about 11AM, showered, coffeed up, and went to Soldier Creek Winery here in town where they were having a grape stomping thing with vendors, live music, and many people, several of whom I knew. I felt like a social butterfly as I was greeted repeatedly by people who seemed glad to see me. :) It was nice. But, after a couple hours of that, it was time to go. Oh, I ate food there too. I had a Chicago dog and a bratwurst with spicy mustard. Both were delicious.

Apple Dumping & ice cream
So, I went to the Community Apple Orchard and got an apple dumpling with cinnamon ice cream and a root beer in a glass bottle with real cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. It was all delicious.

I followed that up with getting my laundry and bedding done, browsed the bookstore and left with two magazines, got a quick half-hour massage, shopped for food to try some new recipes and here we are. All in all, it was a good day and I like those. Now, if only I could get some sleep... not yet though. I don't want to mess up my sleep schedule.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sometimes, just sometimes, I miss managing.

At break someone said, "Supervisor said we have a morale problem."

I said:

We don't have a morale problem. Morale problems are a symptom. It's never the problem. The problem is attention. People value what is noticed. The first Toyota Prius looked like a normal car. It wasn't noticed. People want to do good things for the environment, but they want to be noticed for it. When Toyota changed the design to the distinctive look it has now people were noticed for being green and they sold like crazy. Being noticed counts.

When a press is making bad product and the mechanic notices, it's not the press' fault. It's the mechanic's fault. If an employee is on their cell phone or not doing their quality checks, or is charging their phone out in plain sight and the supervisor doesn't say anything it's not the employee's fault when it keeps happening. When a supervisor spends more time hanging out and shooting the shit with employees and trying to be their friend and their boss notices and does nothing it's not the supervisor's fault. It's the plant manager's fault. 

We all see these things. We all know who the employees are who are slacking and and we know the supervisors that know it. We see them. They see us see them, and they don't care. They don't care that we don't call them on doing their job. (wrong pronoun... I still self-identify as management - oops)

I get it. It's hard to tell someone "do your job" but that IS their job. If they're not going to do it that attitude, that laziness, that "well, maybe it'll fix itself" attitude spreads like oil on water and it's a problem. 

So, people notice bosses not noticing. They assume they don't care, that the supervisors aren't invested, that it isn't  important, that the work THEY do, the good employees do, isn't important, and they feel devalued. They feel like they don't matter. And they feel it because those higher than them, those who are supposed to notice the value of the employees, to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior aren't doing their job, they aren't noticing. 

You can't train a puppy to not piss or shit on the floor by hugging it and cuddling it and hoping it'll figure it out. That's not how it works. You get a very friendly, very messy puppy, and a floor you can't walk across. That's where we are now. There are piles of shit everywhere and the supervisors and bosses just put on taller boots and look at those below them, us, and wonder why we're so grumpy and smell like shit.

Well, look up and around for the problem, not down. Looking down isn't the answer. Looking down is about blaming and not fixing.

No, morale isn't a problem. This ship has no captain and forty-seven stewards bringing us fresh towels as we careen wildly around the Atlantic hoping we don't hit anything.

I stopped, realized I'd gotten a little erm... passionate, and said, "Well, that or we're just a grumpy bunch of bitches. Sorry."

"Dude. You should be a supervisor."
"I was for like fifteen years."
"I mean here."
"Hell no. Y'all are a bunch of grumpy bitches."
Everyone laughed... but money says what I said is repeated.

Sometimes it's frustrating to see a job that I've done and know I'm good at, be done badly by people who are afraid if they try and DO the job that people won't like them. No, asshat. People will like and respect a boss more who IS a boss than one who is their buddy and doesn't do anything to fix things but joins in the gripefests. Sometimes I miss management. I was good at it. Part of the problem is the skill set that gets trained and tested for to be management is to be good with the machines, but the supervisors don't supervise machines. They supervise people.