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Monday, December 31, 2012

Between One Transformative Year and the Next

The world didn’t end in 2012, but it left many of us in a different situation than when the year began.  That’s how it was for me, partly because I was determined to make it a differenty year, and partly due to some surprises.
To help make this a different year, I worked with a life coach who helped open my mind to new possibilities and eliminate stumbling blocks in my life.  Before long, I felt a shift in my thinking and how I saw myself.

In March I had my first taste of success as aninspirational speaker when I took Second Place at a regional Toastmasters International speech.  The award was nice, but the real payoff was having people tell me later how much my story had touched them.

A few months later I was asked to serve as president of the local Toastmasters slub.  At first I shied away from the idea, but saw how it could help me grow in several ways in addition to speaking.

In May I attended an intense traning for people aspiring to get high-paying public speaking engagements.  My mind lit up with all the information, ideas, and connections I made.  It was my first time in L.A. and I had some extra free time to see some of the place.  I loved it.  Watch out, Los Angeles, I'll be back one day.

But I had a big health flare-up midway through theconference.  I got so sick I had to be taken to the emergency room, where they discovered my blood sugar was through the roof.  I was admitted so they could run tests on my transplanted pancreas.   It looked fine, but I had several gall stones.  The pancreas had just worn out.  It was depressing to be hospitalized so far from home and learn that 14 years of non-diabetic freedom had ended.

I flew home, had my gall bladder removed, and tried to adjust to being diabetic again.  I’m getting better at it.  More about that in future posts.

In September I attended a book marketing seminar in Philadelphia but had time to do a little sightseeing too.

I attended the 30 year class reunions of both high schools i attended.  It was really tough changing schools halfway through 11th grade.  Seeing both groups of classmates after all that time helped me put that part of my life in perspective.  Time and maturity helped, but doing that at this stage of the game caused me to edit my memoir and soften the tone in that section.  It also helped me rewrite history so that several people are better, more likeable people—including me.

My memoir!  Ifinally finished it!  I started writing it in 2006 and got sidetracked with some other writing projects and some health issues like cancer and whatnot.  Now it’s being formatted and will be published soon.  

That’s why I expect 2013 to be AT LEAST as transformative as 2012 was.  This will be the year my life story will be put on display for anyone to read.  It will be the year I do paid speaking engagements.  It will be the year I watch my web site grow and possibly launch the line of books related to it.

I’ll be cancer-free two years in early 2013, which means I can get on the transplant waiting list for a new pancreas.

2013 is the year I expect to come into my own and live up to my full potential.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Putting Myself Out There

It’s done now.  My memoir has been a work in progress for almost 7 years.  To put it into perspective, that’s more than 3 times the gestation period of an elephant.  Since starting it in early 2006 I’ve moved twice, endured the worst ice storm in state history, had a severe eye injury, survived cancer, had gall bladder surgery, and have adjusted to being diabetic again.  I was working full-time back in 2006 but left that in late 2009 because it was just too stressful.  I know, excuses, excuses.  Part of that time I was just unfocused and unsure of what to do next.

“You have to blog.”

“You have to Twitter.”

“You have to Facebook.”

Those were only a few of the bits of advice I got along the way—the ones I did. 

I also joined Toastmasters International so I could fine-tune my public speaking skills.  Earlier this year I did well in the International Speech competition with a speech about my experience as an organ transplant recipient.  It was a glimpse at the future, when I’ll be talking to large groups of people about my life and the memoir.

There were other writing projects along the way.  A humor book about Northwest Arkansas, magazine articles, short stories, and an almost-completed novel to name a few.

Sometimes I lost sight of the project that started me on the path as a serious writer.  I was like Murphy Brown’s house painter who never quite finished the job until the end of the series.

And now here we are.  It’s out of my hands and in the formatting process.  As any writer (or any creative person for that matter) can tell you, it takes a thick skin to put your work out there, to open yourself up to scrutiny, criticism, judgment.  I already knew that from approaching shop owners about selling my humor book.

But this is different.  This is my life on paper, along with a few photos of me during good health and bad. 

This is me.

I’ve been told countless times I have a lot of courage.  I guess so.  I just did what I had to do to survive.  But that’s nothing compared to the courage it takes to put all my experiences into a package, slap a current photo of myself on the cover, and say, “Here it is.  Buy it.  Read it.  Form your own opinions and judgments about my life.”
The day I submitted the manuscript, my hand hovered over the mouse, reluctant to click the “upload” button.  I had given my first insulin shot and faced surgery with less angst than I had about letting go of the story.

Next month it will be out there.  I’ll be out there.  Submitted for your approval.


Jim's book, What Didn't Kill Me Made Me Stronger, will be available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Voice Bundled With Other Lone Voices: Modernly Beautiful or Beautifully Modern?

With a divisive election behind us and the holiday season in front of us, it’s important to take a breather and remind ourselves that, as humans, we really are all in this together.  Everyone knows there are some scary, bad things lurking in cyberland.  This is one of the good, uplifting things the Internet has to offer and I felt compelled to share it here.

Listening to Eric Whitacre describe the project on the radio, it sounded interesting.  He is a composer and conducter who wrote the music and offered it to people to perform at home, so they could send him their videos.  There were 185 voices from 23 countries.
Photo source:
Scott Haines synched all the individual voices and videos into one masterfully produced performance with Eric “conducting” the videos assembled as if on a stage of live performers.  When they played the audio, it surpassed all my expectations.


All of these people from all over the world, singing the piece alone at their homes, voluntarily joined others doinig the same thing.  In this age of social media so often replacing face-to-face social interaction, it’s easy to feel disconnected and isolated.  There’s something about this project that helps transcend that.

Not surprisingly, it’s gotten traction.  Virtual Choir 2.0 had 2,051 contributors from 58 countries.
If you find yourself alone this holiday season, watch this video and remember these people were alone and found a way to make their voices count.  It will be interesting to see how this type of performing grows in the years to come.

“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” - Victor Hugo

You can watch the interview with Scott Haines about the project.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Adventures In Health Insurance

I’m uniquely qualified to talk about healthcare.  In the past 25 years I’ve been disabled and non-disabled, diabetic and ex-diabetic, insured through employers, Medicare, and no one.  In the past couple of years the subject of socialized healthcare has been a divisive issue here in the U.S.  Aside from brief discussions with a few people I’ve kept quiet.
But the time has come for me to jump into the fray.  Lucky for me, I’ve got insurance if the fray hurts me.
My Type 1 Diabetes was a pre-existing condition (from age 12) which meant my employers’ insurance chose to ignore that area of my health needs.  I paid for the testing supplies, disposable syringes, alcohol swabs, and two kinds of insulin myself—when I could.  There were a few times when I had to use the syringes twice, risking infection.
And that was when I had insurance.  There were times when I had to cough up (pun intended) the cash to pay for every doctor’s appointment.
When I was 27, the diabetic complications started.  My vision and my kidneys started failing.  I had no problem proving I was in bad enough shape to get Social Security Disability.  Not long after that, Medicare became my only health insurance.
This is the part most lifelong healthy people miss.  If someone with a chronic health condition can’t get the help they need to take care of it, they can become disabled.  I went from paying into the system to being a consumer.  Maybe it was inevitable, but it could have happened later and I could have paid more to Social Security before needing it.
To keep from losing SSDI and the Medicare that comes with it, I worked part-time at a number jobs for which was severely overqualified and under challenged.  A diabetic with failing kidneys can’t expect a private insurer to go near them.  A VOUCHER WOULD NOT HAVE MADE ANY DIFFERENCE.  A voucher does no good if no one will take it.
Medicare paid for the kidney/pancreas transplant.  I was lucky enough to have people willing to help raise the money for the unpaid part of the surgery.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  I don’t even want to think about how a private insurer might have tried to dodge the whole issue.
Medicare also paid for a second transplant, four major eye surgeries, laser treatments, dialysis, and a host of other less serious procedures.
In 2004 I landed a state job and employee health insurance started paying for the deductibles and copayments.  Now that I’m a retired state employee, I’m covered by Medicare and private insurance.  I’m one of the tiny percentage of disabled people fully covered by insurance.
I can remember when my situation wasn’t so comfortable, which is why I don’t have that “I’ve got mine, Jack” attitude I hear too often from the chronically healthy.
Even if you don’t have a chronic health condition, an accident or sudden illness could make it impossible for you to work.  Then where would you be?  You’d end up with socialized healthcare.  You would be persona non grata to the private insurers.
You say you’re really careful?  You eat right and exercise?  Great, but your luck could run out.  Yes, luck is a factor, too.  A drunk or distracted driver could crash right into you.  Don’t let luck make you smug.
There’s an old saying, apparently forgotten my many: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Keeping people healthy is so much cheaper than playing catch-up later.
Not only do most healthy people work, they further their education, volunteer, and some even start businesses.
I’ve heard people say, “We can’t afford to cover everyone in this economy.”  With two-thirds of us overweight, we can’t afford not to.  Here is the Land of the Free it’s “eat now, pay later.” 
Well, I’ve seen the bill myself.  Millions of us won’t be able to stiff the restaurant and do a Dine-N-Dash this time.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Computer Virus Creators

Dear Computer Virus Creator

I’m one of your countless, nameless, faceless victims.  To PC users a computer virus is about as unavoidable as death, taxes, and spam.  Even the most tech and internet savvy computer users (which I’m not) can fall prey your to dastardly deeds.  I was fooled by a very realistic-looking link when I tried to upgrade software.  Right away I knew I’d done something wrong because my computer froze up.  A manual reboot led to obvious conclusion: virus.

Right now, you’re probably chuckling to yourself like some kind of villain from a Batman movie.  I imagine you look like the garden-variety American computer geek, but you may actually be from anywhere in the world.  In that case, you may not have much sympathy for a white, college-educated American male.  Whoever you are, you’re about to get to know who I am.

The first sign something was wrong after I rebooted my computer was when Zoomtext, the magnifier program I use, didn’t open.  Visually-impaired people like me have to use a program to enlarge what’s on the screen.  I also use it to reduce glare by reversing colors on documents, so I’m looking at white letters on a black background.  Black and white.  Right and wrong.  Some of us know the difference.

It may not matter to you that one of your victims is legally blind, so it may not matter to you that I don’t drive, either.  I’m fortunate enough to live in a town with taxi cab service.  It isn’t cheap, but I’m lucky to have it.  I’m also lucky my computer guru wasn’t busy.  He even gave me a discount to clean up your mess because I’m a regular customer.  Yes, Mean-spirited Technically-gifted Loser, you’ve plagued me before.

After riding the taxi back home, I kept busy doing other things and tried not to think about lost productivity.  I’m nearing completion of my memoir, in which I talk about several health issues I’ve had to overcome in my life.  Being a single, middle-aged legally blind guy with a couple of transplanted organs isn’t easy.  I really don’t need you complicating my life further.

A kind soul gave me a ride to pick up my computer when it was fixed and also hooked it back up for me.  That saved me from having to feel the back of the PC tower to make sure I inserted the connections properly.  It would have taken me five times as long as it took him and I probably would have ended up with a headache. 

Score one for Jim!

Ah, but you did a thorough job, Mr. Egotistical Socially Unskilled 40 Year-old Virgin.  The virus you made was in there so deep I had to take it back for a full strip-down of my hard drive.  My computer guru removed everything this time, including your masterpiece of computer treachery.  When I picked it up the next day, I had to reinstall software.  Luckily, someone was able to hook up my computer this time and load Zoomtext on there again. 

Score TWO MORE for Jim!

The rest of us can only wonder what motivates you to wreak havoc on our lives like you do.  Are you angry at the world because in high school the cool kids shunned you due to your colossal geekiness?  Is your ego so inflated and your imagination so limited that this is the only thing you can think of to leave your mark on the world?  Do you work for an anti-virus software company desperately trying to create demand for its products?  Does creating computer viruses somehow make your penis larger?

I’d like to think this will make you feel guilty, but it won’t.  I’d love for the rest of us to sniff you out like bloodhounds, surround your sparsely-furnished little apartment, drag you out in the street in the underwear and dirty T-shirt you wear all day while sitting at your computer, and take turns pummeling you with our permanently infected laptops until you beg for mercy, cry like a little girl, and slink away to the safety of the nearest ditch or trash dumpster, but we won’t.

So, Sleazy Misguided Self-delusional Creep, I would like to close by letting your know that you were successful at causing me stress, raising  my blood pressure, delaying my progress, and costing me a small wad of cash.  But I don’t need to use my skills and education to unleash misery on the computer-using public in order to feel better about myself.  And that, in spite of my limited eyesight and tech know-how, means I win.  Until you serve up some kind of Y2K type of worldwide computer mayhem that leads rational people to hoard canned food, beef jerky, and ammo, you not only earn my disgust, by my pity as well—because you are as insignificant as a nanoparticle in the computer chip of an ameba’s tiny flash drive.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Finding Out Someone Would Save My Life

Because yesterday was the ninth anniversary of my second kidney transplant, I thought I would share an excerpt from my book, which is in the final editing process.  Maybe it's fitting that it will probably be published in September.  It's a month of intense highs and lows for me.


Why is the word always associated with an unwelcome surprise?  The term comes from something approaching from outside your field of vision, your “blind” side, catching you off guard.

     It’s a situation I am only too familiar with.  With non-existent peripheral vision, people and objects always seem to come out of nowhere.  I get blindsided almost every day.  It can cause everything from mild surprise to injury. 

     But, it’s possible to be blindsided by something good.  Out of nowhere, exactly what you need.  Sometimes, it’s far beyond what you hoped for.  You find yourself saying, “I never would have expected that in a million years.”

     Chance?  Maybe.  Luck?  Probably.  God?  Yes.

     There’s no other explanation for an unexpected gift so completely unselfish that it leaves you shaking your head in awe.  A gift of such profound generosity that Hallmark doesn’t make a greeting card to express the gratitude you feel.  That’s divine intervention.  That is all the proof anyone needs for the existence of a mysterious, but loving God.

     I guess you could say God made me legally blind—and has blindsided me over and over since then.    



     My parents and I sat in the waiting area of transplant office at OU Med Center.  I was there for a checkup with Dr. Squires.  We had been there long enough for them to finish reading the Ft. Smith and Greenwood newspapers they had brought to keep them entertained during the wait.  Mom was reminding me of things to ask Dr. Squires.

     She added, “And be sure to tell him that Connie wants to donate a kidney,so find out how that works.”  


     “What are you talking about?” I said.  “Who is Connie?”

     Did I hear her right?  Someone wants to give me a kidney? 

     “Didn’t I tell you Connie Grote wants to give you a kidney?” she asked.


     “Oh, I thought I had told you about that,” she said, a little embarrassed at the oversight.

     “Someone wants to give me a kidney?”  I asked incredulously. 

     “Yes, Connie Grote, who cuts my hair, offered to give you one.”

     At that moment, the nurse called my name and I went to have my vital signs checked, which was the first part of a typical appointment at the transplant office.  My throat had suddenly gone dry and I could barely speak to the nurse.  This unexpected announcement had triggered a dozen emotions all at once. 

     Someone wants to give me a kidney!  I can’t believe this.  I don’t even know her.  Mom said her name is Connie something.

     I couldn’t even remember her last name.  I wanted to dart back to the waiting area and ask my mother for more details.  She had just casually dropped this information in my lap and now I had to have my checkup.  While waiting in the examining room, I pressed my thumb and forefinger in the corners of my eyes to stop the tear ducts.  Shock, gratitude, curiosity, desperation, hope, skepticism, worry, relief, exhilaration—those and a dozen other emotions elbowed each other out of the way in a rush to the front of my brain, which had suddenly grown crowded with thoughts and unfamiliar emotions I didn’t have a name for. 

     “I just found out someone wants to give me a kidney,” I told Barbara, the transplant coordinator as she began to go over my medications on my chart.

     “That’s wonderful,” she said.  I can’t remember what else she said, or what all Dr. Squires told me when I shared the news with him.  He explained all the steps necessary for her to be tested to make sure she was a suitable donor for me. 

     After my checkup, my parents and I went to eat lunch in Bricktown, an area of Oklahoma City with several restaurants.  It was our custom, but this time was different.  Over lunch, I told my parents what Dr. Squires had said about the subject of a live donor and got as many details as I could from my mother. 

     Mom said she had talked to Connie about my situation the last few times she had gone for a haircut. 

     “One day, she tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I’ll give your son a kidney.’  Well, I was flabbergasted.” Mom said.  So, the news had come right out of the blue to her just as it had for me. 

     She went on, “I asked her ‘Connie, what if someone in your own family needs a kidney someday?’  She said ‘God will take care of them.’  So I said ‘Well, OK then.’  Can you believe that?” 

There's more to that chapter, but you have the main part.  It's actually the first part I wrote when I started the book.  It just seemed like the right place to start.  What do you think?

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Festivals, Fayetteville, and Roots

The Fayetteville Roots Festival is August 23-26.

It brings in live music, food, vendors, and is a celebration of Ozark Mountain culture.  And no, Ozark Mountain culture isn’t an oxymoron.  One of the great things about Fayetteville is that it embraces the future without abandoning its past.

For the majority of people now living in Northwest Arkansas, the roots don’t run deep yet.  For the most part, that’s a good thing.  It means this area has a healthy economy and people want to retire here or move here because it’s a great place to live.  All you have to do is travel east of Little Rock to see what the other side of that coin looks like.

For some of us, “Fayettevile roots” has a literal meaning.  I was born in the Missouri Ozarks and my parents came back here when I was a few months old.  Some of my early childhood was spent in the River Valley before my family returned here.  I grew up, for the most part, less than a mile from the U of A campus.  It was the 70s and early 80s, when Fayetteville was a notorious party town.  It did not escape my attention, but that's for another post.

My mother was born here.  My parents were married in a church just down the street from where she attended grade school.  They met in the 50s when they both worked on the square.  She worked at a dime store—one of the first handful owned by Sam Walton.  Right after they got married, they lived in some apartments on Meadow Street that, just like their marriage, have withstood the test of time.

My grandfather was a football star at Fayetteville High School in the 1930s.  The school won the state championship all three years he played for FHS.  His name is engraved on the sidewalk at Harmon Field with other winning team members throughout the years.  The “football jock” gene somehow didn’t get passed down to me.

But, my grandmother’s knack for telling a story did.

When I was a kid, she told me countless stories of what the area was like in the early 20th century.  My favorite is about the Saturday her family rode in from Farmington after a rain.  Most people came to town to do their trading on Saturday.  It was the 1920s, before the square was paved.  Their wagon got stuck in the mud.  It’s pretty hard to imagine now.  It was hard to imagine back in the 70s when she told me that story.

These stories about my family and this area made one thing cliear: the two are intertwined, as impossible to separate from each other as vines of stubborn kudzu.

For me, going to the farmer’s market on the square to buy fresh, locally-grown produce feels like it’s in my DNA.  I’m a consumer.  Two generatons of my family were the producers and sold it to general stores downtown.  I can find a high point in town, look across the hills, and know they haven’t changed at all since since members of my family first saw them in the mid-1800s—no matter how much the buildings on them have.

The university has definitely helped make this town what it is today.  Enrollment jumped in the 60s and 70s when the Baby Boomers reached college age.  They helped make Dickson Street “funky” and cool.  After that, the city’s reputation was sealed.  Artsy, eclectic, creative, progressive, laid-back, fun, quirky Fayetteville was the perfect place for an artistically-inclined kid like me to grow up.  It had plenty of opportunities and was an accepting place for me to return to after losing part of my vision.  It’s always been fertile ground for the mind of the writer I was destined to become.

I love hearing newcomers say things like, “I didn’t know this was such a great place!” 

I just smile and say, “Yes, it is.”

But, it has been a great place for a long time.  Even my great-grandparents knew that.
The Newcomers Field Guide to Hill Folk, a humorous look at Northwest Arkansas, is now available in print AND ebook.  You don't have to be a newcomer to like it.  You might even recognize people you know.
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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lost In the Gym

A couple of weeks ago I went to the gym and almost everything had been rearranged since my last visit.  I know what you’re thinking.  “That’s what he gets for only going once every six months.”  But it had only been two days.

Looking down, I noticed the carpet was cleaner.  If I was able to tell the difference it must have been pretty dirty before.  They must have taken the opportunity to put those heavy machines—with their seats, bars, and stacks of weights—in a formation that made more sense.  For me, it was like a bad Helen Keller joke.  I spent a few minutes after using each one I needed to slowly spin around, looking for the one I needed next.

It made me feel a little self-conscious until I saw that I wasn’t the only one.  A few people even said stuff like, “I can’t find anything either.”  If misery loves company, so do blind folks.  I decided I would give myself some extra time each time I went until I memorized where everything was.

I really like the health club that I use.  It’s been at the current location two years.  The building was once a six-screen cinema.  I’ve lived in a former printing building, a former Catholic church, and a former carriage house.  I like old buildings that are remade into something different than their original function.  This one was originally a two-screen cinema when it was built in the 1970s.  The first movie I ever saw there was Star Wars.  Looking at in now, you would never guess what it had been before.

A week after the rearrangement, I was using a machine to work out my legs.  I hate working out my legs and I take unusually long breaks between sets.  Looking around, I finally realized the system they’d used when they moved everything.  There was a long, wide aisle running the length of the room.

Sometimes when we bother to look up at the bigger picture, we notice things are more orderly than we thought.