About Jim Hines

http://www.jimchines.com

Posts by Jim Hines:

Tattoo, Part One of Three

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.)

Jim - Left Arm, Pre-Tattoo

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 🙂

Tattoo - Drawing

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…

Tattoo - Stencil

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.

Stencil applied

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 at all.

The inking begins!

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…

Work space with tattoo guns, ink, water, ointment

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 at all.

Bactine wrap

We had a little time left when he finished inking the last of the lines, so he started in 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.

Tattoo after session one

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.

CyberMonday Book Deals

A purely self-promotional post, for anyone looking to drop a few bucks on relatively cheap ebooks…

Imprinted Cover Art

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.

NaNo and Personal Updates

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.

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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.

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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.

Health Care Costs

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.

NaNoWriMo 2019

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!

Some of the Lessons Learned These Past Two Months

Make sure your partner/beneficiary knows about any life insurance policies you might have. Likewise, make sure you know about any policies you have. (This advice comes courtesy of the small policy Amy had through her union, which I learned about more than a month after her death.)

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“What do I do with all of her belongings?” Remember there’s no rush or deadline. You don’t have to go through your loved one’s belongings in the first week, the first month, or even the first year.

I’ve been going through a little bit at a time. There are things I’m keeping, other things that go to our kids or family/friends. As for the rest, a few options…

  • ThredUp – An  online shop for secondhand women’s clothing. They mail you a postage-paid bag. You fill it with clothes in good condition and mail it back. They do the work of selling, and you get a small commission. Amy had a fair amount of new or near-new clothes and handbags that wouldn’t fit anyone we know.
  • Local Shelters – Amy had a bunch of hair-care and other products, along with things like the small bottles of baby shampoo you get at the hospital. We weren’t going to use them, so I spoke with a friend at a local domestic violence shelter and donated several boxes worth for their clients.
  • eBay – This has almost been more hassle than it’s worth, but I’ve put a few things up for sale on eBay. I don’t think I’d do it for small items, but to pick an example, Amy had all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD, new and unopened, and none of us were going to watch them.
  • Goodwill – Not my first choice, but better than just throwing things out.

This is a long, difficult process. Even when I think I’m doing okay, I’ll come across something that knocks the emotional wind out of me. This week it was the big teddy bear Amy had when she was a teenager. I had no idea she still had that tucked away in the back of the closet…

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Don’t try to tough it out and lock the pain away. We do such a lousy job teaching people, especially guys, how to cope with pain and grief and other emotions. “Don’t cry.” “Be strong.” “You’ve got to get over it.”

Screw that. It’s been just over two months, and it still hurts every day. Some days are easier than others. It’s not a straight path. It still hurts. It’s still unfair. I’m still pissed. She’s on my mind all the time, either in my thoughts or right below the surface, waiting.

Let yourself hurt. Let yourself cry. Let yourself grieve.

It’s okay to get help. In my case, it’s a support group I’ve been attending for a little over a month, and I just started going to see my therapist again.

As my support group facilitator says, the grief is going to come out. Either you accept and work to manage the grief, or else it’s going to manage you.

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It’s all right to be happy sometimes.

I have guilt about being alive and relatively healthy when Amy dealt with a lifetime of various health issues. I wish I could have taken some or all of that burden for her. But I know she loved me, and I know she’d want me to be happy.

Easier said than done.

It’s harder when it feels like there’s nothing to look forward to. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and remember once again that Amy’s gone. I’ll go through a few more of her belongings and deal with the pain and guilt of that process. I’ll make dinner and be reminded once again that she was better at it than I am, and that she should be here too. It sucks. Why would anyone want to wake up for another day of that?

So I’ve almost had to force myself to create things to look forward to. I bought Star Wars tickets for myself and my son, along with some friends, so we could see the movie together. I’ve got an appointment in a month to start on my first tattoo, which will be a tribute to Amy and our kids. I signed up to attend ConFusion in January, my first con in about a year and a half.

None of it will be right without Amy. But they’re things I know I’ll enjoy, even if that enjoyment is mixed with pain and guilt. And I know she’d want me to keep living and keep trying to find things that make me happy.

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Talk to your partner/loved ones about what you want to happen if you die. Amy was so focused on getting better that we barely talked about the worst-case scenario. Even acknowledging it out loud felt like giving up. Logically, we knew it wasn’t, but logic doesn’t always beat emotion.

But those few brief conversations we did have helped so, so much.

Sitting there in the funeral home as the funeral coordinator asks question after question – burial or cremation, what kind of ceremony, where should it be held, what kind of prayer cards do you want, what about flowers, and so on – it’s overwhelming.

I didn’t know everything she’d want, but I knew the basics. Knowing the memorial service we put together was something she would have appreciated, it helped a lot. Bringing Amy’s parents and our daughter along to the planning session (they all wanted to come) helped too – together, we knew Amy well enough to figure out the best choices for the things Amy and I hadn’t discussed.

But I wish we’d talked more. Preferably before she got sick, which would have eliminated that fear and sense of giving up…

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I’ve been forcing myself to say yes to pretty much every social-type invitation, mostly people asking if I wanted to grab lunch or dinner or whatever. I also pushed to get a few friends on board for a monthly game night, which should start in another week or so. I know I need some social interaction, to get out of the house and interact with people who care about me. Even when it would be easier to just stay home and crawl back into bed.

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Be gentle with yourself.

I had to clean out Amy’s office this week. 50+ boxes of stuff to go through. That was hard. For the rest of the day, I skipped exercise, I didn’t try to write, I pretty much just read and watched TV. I’m trying hard to be okay with that, with allowing myself to take breaks and recognizing the toll all of this takes. (Or, you know, with letting myself go weeks between blog posts, aside from the Cool Stuff Friday links.)

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All things considered, I think we’re doing all right. It’s hard – grief doesn’t have an expiration date – but we’re still living our lives each day, which is what she would want.

Jim C. Hines