Friday will bring honor to us all.
- Holiday Goals: Steven Newland’s smoke-breathing Godzilla Christmas tree
- Chris Porsz’s dog pics!
- Cat Snapchats
Yesterday I had the first of three sessions for my very first tattoo.
I’d been talking about this for much of 2019. If I was going to do it, I wanted to go all out. I knew I wanted something that would represent my family, so I talked to Amy and the kids about what sort of imagery would best represent them.
Amy liked the idea of a tree: natural and outdoorsy, with strong roots and branches. For my son Jamie, a dragon was the obvious choice. And for Skylar, we went with a moon. I spent a while looking at artists online, scrolling through portfolios, before finally settling on James Hurley at Eclectic Art Tattoo in Lansing.
I went in to meet with him in August. We talked about what I wanted, and he sounded confident he could pull it all together and create something I was happy with.
Here’s the “Before” picture from yesterday morning — my last day ever of having a naked left arm. (Click on any of the pics if you want a larger view.)
James was finishing up inking the drawing to create a stencil when I arrived. This was my first time seeing his design, which made me nervous. What if I didn’t like it? What if I wanted him to make lots of changes?
I needn’t have worried. I peeked over his shoulder, saw what he was touching up, and loved it. It got the three elements I wanted, and the overall image is very on-brand for me 🙂
He finished up, then photocopied the whole thing to check the sizing against my arm. He wasn’t sure if this would be too big, or if we should go a tiny bit smaller, but in the end we both decided to keep it as is. So the photocopy went through another machine to print the stencil. It reminded me some of the old dittos we used to get back in elementary school…
Now it was time to prep my arm. I’d shaved beforehand, but he ran the razor over my arm to catch any strays and get rid of my arm stubble. He cleaned the skin and applied the stencil. He also sketched a bit with Sharpie, kind of marking where the foliage would eventually go for the tree, and giving a sense of the boundaries for the image.
For the first time, I got to see what this thing would look like on my arm.
Spoiler: I liked it. Purple ditto lines and all.
Now there was nothing left but to get on the table and let James start firing a motorized needle into my skin.
He started with some of the smallest lines — the tufts of grass around the dragon’s feet — to give me a chance to get used to the pain. This was my first tattoo, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but my daughter had described it as feeling like a kitten’s claw scratching a sunburn.
That was pretty accurate. And as someone who’s gotten plenty of kitten scratches over the years, the pain wasn’t bad.
He’d ink a few lines, wipe away the excess ink, and repeat, pausing as needed to dip more ink. Like a motorized fountain pen. (There was also a brief delay for equipment troubleshooting, since the he was using had a short.)
Here’s what his workspace looked like after we’d been going for a while…
All total, he spent close to four hours working on my arm, stopping for a few breaks for both of us. Two or three times, he’d spray me down in Bactine and wrap the arm in Bactine-soaked paper towels, which was heavenly. A few minutes of that took all the pain away.
Because by now, he was doing some of the longer and thicker lines. Some of those lines went into the more sensitive skin close to the armpit. Basically, it felt the same as before, but the sunburn was worse and the kittens had longer claws. There was a little swelling with the lines, and a few tiny spots of blood, but nothing bad or worrisome.
We had a little time left when he finished inking the last of the lines, so he started on some shading, talking about how excited he was at the lighting possibilities in the image, and all of the depth and development yet to come. You could tell he was into this, and genuinely liked the artwork he was creating, which is a good thing.
He also drew in some light gray lines that will serve more as guidance for the next round, but after that, he’d done pretty much everything he could do for now. He talked about wanting to start on the color just so we could see what it looked like, but that would have to wait. He wiped me up and gave me one last, lovely Bactine wrap.
We went over care instructions. I’d get a breathable covering that stays on for three days. After that, wash 3 times/day and apply a thin layer of ointment until it’s healed, which could be a week or more. (With me being diabetic, I’m guessing it will be more.)
I’ve got three sessions scheduled. Number two will be in the beginning of January. We’ll start coloring things in then. I’m not sure how much we’ll get done in that session, and what will have to wait until the end of January. This is a good-sized tattoo, and that’s a lot of skin to color.
Here’s what I looked like at the end of it all.
It’s a bit sore — again, a lot like a sunburn. I couldn’t sleep on that arm last night, but I haven’t been sleeping well in months anyway, so it’s not like it caused me any additional trouble.
I’m really happy with how it looks so far. I feel like James really got what I wanted, even though I couldn’t really visualize it in my own head.
I’ve been looking forward to this for many months. Now, I just can’t wait to go back and get it finished!
Oh, and people have warned me that this is addictive. For now, I think I’m happy just getting this one completed. But I won’t rule out the possibility of another one of these days, if there’s something significant and meaningful I want to add. (And once I’ve replenished the tattoo budget!)
I’ll post more pics in January after we finish the next session.
A purely self-promotional post, for anyone looking to drop a few bucks on relatively cheap ebooks…
Goblin Quest: The first book in the goblin trilogy, and the story that launched my SF/F career. Humorous fantasy about an underdog goblin named Jig and his pet fire-spider Smudge.
The Stepsister Scheme: The first of four fairy tale-based adventures that turn Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty into kick-ass action heroes.
Imprinted: A Magic ex Libris novelette, set after the events of Revisionary.
As expected, I’ve fallen far short of the “official” 50,000-word goal of National Novel Writing Month. But I’ve written more in November than I did the month before, and I still have a few days left. So from that perspective, I’ve already gotten what I had hoped to get out of this. It’s all very rough, and will need more work, but it’s progress.
As for my personal life, well … last week sucked. I’m not sure why everything hit me so much harder, but I’ve got lots of theories. It could be that it’s been a year since Amy first started showing symptoms of cancer, even though we thought it was just spine trouble back then. Or it could be that I’ve finished all of the immediate work I had to do in terms of cleanup and sorting through paperwork and belongings, and now I’m more aware of the emptiness. And of course we’ve got the holidays coming up, as well as her birthday…
We’re gonna be taking a vacation this year over Christmas. Better to get away and do something fun and new than to wake up Christmas morning and have to deal with everything being so wrong.
Side note: vacation planning is hard. But I’ve got flights, rental car, three different hotels, and reservations on activities that required ’em. I think there will be really cool things for all three of us to enjoy.
The whole time I was planning things, I was wishing we’d done this before, when Amy was still with us. But I know she’d be happy we were getting to go. I suspect a lot of things in the foreseeable future will be bittersweet that way.
Friday will be three months since Amy’s death. I still think about her throughout the day, every day and every night. I hug the memories of being with her, and I wonder what life is going to look like in the future.
I think that may be another reason last week was so hard: the idea that this is it. This is what my life is from now on. Trying to be the best parent I can, to take care of my kids and justify Amy’s trust in me. I think I’m doing pretty well, but it’s exhausting. I’m behind on emails and other correspondence because I just haven’t had the spoons for it all.
I miss my wife, and I’m lonely. I’ve realized that the Venn diagram of these two things isn’t quite a perfect circle, which opens up other questions about whether one day I’d be ready for another relationship, and all of the complicated guilt and loneliness and hope and confusion that comes from thinking about that.
It feels like it would almost be a kind of polyamorous relationship. I’ll never stop loving and missing Amy. But maybe someday I’d be able to love someone else, too?
Or maybe not. It’s a bizarre thought to even poke at.
All I know is that right now, things are hard. They’ve been that way for a year. And I expect they’re going to stay that way for a long time yet.
Friday is not ready for Thanksgiving…
- Jill the rescue squirrel, and her tiny teddy bear
- Joyful doggos reunited with their people, and vice versa
- Giant lap dogs
As the health care debate continues, I wanted to look back at the costs of treatment for my wife’s cancer, as well as what was and wasn’t covered, and how our insurance and financial situation could have so easily bankrupted us.
I started by pulling up the total medical charges she accrued from December of last year through the end of August, when she passed away. That total came to $1,888,934.72
We were fortunate to have very good health insurance coverage. Of that total, we paid $1811.24 out of pocket in co-pays. (This doesn’t count all the other expenses, like food and transportation and lodging as we went back and forth to various hospitals, and so on.)
In other words, without health insurance, we would have been on the hook for close to two million dollars of medical bills over the course of nine months.
Back in 2015, when Amy was working full time at CMH, we decided I would try to quit my day job and write full-time. She would provide the salary and benefits, while I would bring in all that shiny author coin. Only my bosses at the day job didn’t want me to go, so they worked out a quarter-time position where I’d be able to work primarily from home. It meant a small but steady paycheck, and thanks to a clause in the Affordable Care Act, I was able to continue getting our health insurance coverage through my own job.
Why is that important? Because Amy’s benefits – vision and dental – ended in February 2019, because she hadn’t been working. On account of her being hospitalized with cancer.
Let’s assume things went as we’d planned. Assume we were on her health insurance. She’d been working full time for years, doing everything “right.” But then she got sick and couldn’t work. 2-3 months later, she lost her insurance.
Looking at the total charges for March through August, we would have been on the hook for $930,076.20 in medical bills.
The alternatives would have been either COBRA coverage, or else finding a plan on the Health Insurance exchange that provided something close to what we had.
COBRA coverage for our vision and dental after we lost Amy’s insurance for those was about $150/month. That stung, but compared to the medical numbers, I’m not gonna complain too much.
Equivalent health insurance coverage for our family, either through COBRA or the exchange, would have been around $2000/month. Better than having to pay a million in medical bills out of pocket, but how many people do you know who can afford an extra $2000/month in unexpected expenses?
Keep in mind, lymphoma is one hell of a preexisting condition. Without protections for those conditions, I’d have been stuck running a million-dollar medical GoFundMe.
I saw a Facebook friend the other day talking about how much he liked and wanted to keep his private insurance. Unfortunately, as I learned this year, employer-based coverage can disappear when you need it most. What’s the point of having great health insurance that only insures you as long as you don’t get too sick?
As horrible as this year has been, we were fortunate when it came to our health insurance. Lots of people aren’t. More than half a million families in the U.S. file for bankruptcy every year because of medical bills. Then there are those who are forced to ration their medicine or forego health care altogether.
We need to do better.
At the last minute — okay, technically after the last minute, since it was later in the day on November 1 — I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. I joined knowing there was pretty much 0% chance of me reaching the 50,000 word goal for November. I doubt I’ll even get close.
Which is fine, because while 50,000 words of novel would be great, that’s not my goal. I wanted to try to push myself into working more on Terminal Peace. I haven’t written at my usual pace for about a year now, and at least half of that time, I wasn’t writing at all. For the past month, I’ve been slowly getting back into the book, maybe a few hundred words a day. I figured this might help me shift into a higher gear.
It sort of worked. In the first five days of November, I did 6,474 words. I averaged more than a thousand words/day. It’s the best writing streak I’ve had since 2018.
Then, of course, I hit a point in the story where I needed to know the backstory of an entire planet, build an alien culture or two, figure out the motivations of two ambiguous villains … basically, yesterday and today were 0-wordcount days as I tried to figure out the next chunk of the book.
That’s disappointing after a good five-day streak, but I don’t want to ignore the significance of those five days. I was able to focus more, and get closer to being the working writer I was a year ago. I’m not there yet, but it’s progress. And as I noted on Facebook, Terminal Peace now includes the phrase “ranivorous cleavage,” so you know, that’s a thing.
I’m still brainstorming and making notes, but hopefully I’ll get back to producing actual words tomorrow.
Good luck to everyone taking NaNoWriMo on this year!