Check out the prologue to "Alone In The Light" by clicking here

An excerpt from: Alone In The Light

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks; An Abridged List Of The Good Stuff In Life

Happy Thanksgiving

Every year, we sit around the table and give thanks. And with it being 2020 and all, we're having trouble finding those little things we're thankful for... I mean, it's been just a shitty year overall am I right? And not just with COVID... the whole year just seems to WANT to make life suck. 

But we're pulling through... We're moving forward to a better and brighter tomorrow free of the crap that this year will end up leaving by the wayside... And I am thankful for that. I am actually thankful for a lot of stuff... And  here's my list... It's not complete, but I'm calling 90%

I'm thankful for my family.

My wife who loves me and puts up with all of me strange little idiosyncrasies (It's a $2.00 word. Look it up). She lets me do my thing. She lets me lean on her when I need help and she leans on me when she needs it. We are a team.

My kids who, even though I want to sell them from time to time, are the absolute light of my universe. Nothing takes the sting out of a bad day quite like an adorable 6-year-old telling you they "had the biggest poop ever in the history of the world..."

My brothers and their families who are always there if I need them. We don't agree on sports, but we agree on being family... and that's what matters.

My mom and dad are, without a doubt, the only reason most of you even like me. I mean, let's be honest, I won the parent lottery. They're supportive. They listen to my thoughts and ideas and, even when they disagree, don't judge me for it. If anything, our differences have made us a stronger family.

My adoptive family... Those of you who I talk to and lean on when I'm about to lose it. The people who take me hunting and show me how to do things I've never done and laughing at me when I cut my finger off. The recipe-sharing friends on Facebook who have brought me into their inner circle and given me Grandma's super-secret cookies recipe.

I'm thankful for my health. To date, I do not have COVID19 or something worse.

I'm thankful for employment. A lot of people in the music/performance industry are still without pay. They are still waiting for things to change. I was fortunate to find new employment in my hometown and that alone has kept me sane... and insured which is a HUGE thing in our "please don't get sick and die" society.

I am thankful for opportunities that are still around.

I am thankful for science.

I am thankful for antibiotics, science-fiction, and the internet.

I am thankful that we have Zoom and Facetime during this pandemic.

I am thankful for the ability to mute people who are too dumb to spell pandemic, yet fully capable of hitting that share button on every racist meme they can get their hands on.

I am thankful that I can say "no" to spending time with people who are toxic in my life and not feel bad about it... or guilty.

I am thankful that I don't have to say no to people who aren't toxic. You are always welcomed and I will help you in any way I can.

I am thankful for bourbon.

I am thankful for this awesome spatchcocked, buttermilk-brined turkey I'll be cooking tomorrow.

I am thankful that my mental health isn't a giant vortex of anger and depression despite the world we live in.

I am thankful for Hornady Custom 300 grain XTP 44 Mag and the CVA Hunter rifle that fires it.

I am thankful for a freezer full of meat and a pantry full of food.

I am thankful that Angie and I have had the good fortune to publish books.

I am thankful for all the people who have read those books and ask us for more.

I am thankful for coffee.

I am thankful for music.

I am thankful for audiobooks and the people who create them.

I am thankful that I can still hear despite the constant, high-pitch ringing in my right ear.

I am thankful to still be alive after 42 years, 3 colleges, 1 war, 1 marriage, 2 kids, 5 apartments, 2 houses, 6 cats, and a dog... 

I am thankful for my dog, Boomer.

I am thankful to be me.

What about you, dear reader? What are you thankful for this year?

Monday, April 13, 2020

Living Behind The Wire

A couple of days ago, two of my Twitter friends were discussing "life at home" and how it is very much like being on deployment - with the military.

I'll be damned if that didn't hit home really hard.

This whole "Quarantine" thing is very much like being deployed. And that has its good moments and bad moments.... and a WHOLE lot of downtime and boredom.

Let me give you the quick and dirty - 
90% of life on deployment is spent sitting on your cot/bunk being bored out of your mind, unable to go anywhere or do anything. You are stuck with the same people day in and day out. You desperately await the arrival of new mail so you can, hopefully, read something new or get a new snack. You can do PT (work out), you can eat, you can read and re-read the same book and magazine, and you can walk circles around your living area... It's boring.

Yep... It is boring, and, strangely, quite normal on the outside. You do your job, you go on with the day to day shit - but you're confined to one small plot of land for a VERY long time. It's seemingly safe and secure, but you know that outside the wire is potential trouble and death. But despite that fear, you're inside the wire, and you try to live normally... knowing very well that this is not normal.

You call your parents and loved ones, you chat with them on the phone - but you can never hug them or have dinner with them. You can order things to do from the internet, but it takes time to get to you. Your normal routine is gone... and now you're just trying to make the best of your 2 square miles of land and the same 9 people you spend every waking minute with. Privacy is basically gone. Alone time is relegated to the bathroom visits.

This is what we're experiencing right now... stuck at home, trying to be normal while NOT being normal. Welcome to life on deployment, folks!

I'd like to say it gets better, but that's only partially true - you get numb to it. Which is the best you're going to get. You find ways to cope with never having a true moment of privacy. You find ways to make a routine of this new life... And, eventually, you'll forget about the stress of what's outside the wire... And this is where being deployed is actually easier... When the only source of news is AFN during mealtime, you aren't under a constant assault of social media posts and news stories that fill you with anxiety and dread... you just sort of get 10 minutes of news when you're eating... then have an ice cream on your way out of the DFAC, and forget about it as you go back to living your quarantined lifestyle.

This is where we are folks... unsure of when our deployment will end, stuck with the same people and the same locations for an unknown amount of time, and trying to make the best of it and not think too much about what's happening outside the wire...

And it sucks.

So, how do we deal with this?

Some people take to it with ease and love it. Some people lose their shit and end up trying to go AWOL. Some people end up with PTSD from the sheer life altering change in "the norm." It's true...

The best advice I can give you is try to find a routine. Try to find a schedule at home. Try to not dwell on all the ifs, buts, and stress of life "outside the wire." It's different for everyone... And no one answer will fit.

For me? I'm working on stopping smoking. I'm reading books. I'm eventually going to try to write something... On the day-to-day, I wake up every day by 8. I make breakfast for the family. We do homework, play games, eat lunch at 12:00... we have snacks at 3:00... we have the kids help cook their meals. We call the grandparents. We try to have a routine.  We do NOT watch the news very much. We do NOT spend all of our time Doom-Surfing the internet. We do NOT try to sneak out and go do things we're not supposed to do...

And it sucks.

Look, I'll be honest - I've lived through deployments before and they all have one thing in common - they'll eventually end. We just have to ride this out for a while. When it's over, we'll all have to go through a new adjustment period - just like we're doing right now.

Keep your shit together, folks. Take turns being the strong partner/friend. We all have shoulders to lean on... and we're probably all going to need one at some point.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Mental Health During Quarantine

So, uh, yeah. Where do I start?

I've had an eventful 41 years so far... but this is my first nationwide lock-down/quarantine. So, you know, good times! My kids will now be out of school until May 1 at the earliest and I am moderately concerned about my employment in the foreseeable future... but that's a blog post for a different day.

Today, we're talking about being cooped up in the house for a LONG time and how this can really mess with your mental health.

Now, if you're me, you can sit at home and not deal with the outside world for weeks on end and be perfectly happy. But, that's not good advice. Instead - here is how to prevent yourself from having a complete mental breakdown.

First - it is important to maintain a clean environment. When you get up in the morning - make your bed. Pick up your dirty clothes. clean your dishes and don't let them pile up.... Don't let your personal space devolve into a pigsty. That will drain you in a hurry. This is my most important lesson.

Shower EVERY DAY. That's right. Clean yourself and then put on clean clothes... You feel much better once you've showered.

Eat. And not ALL THE TIME. I mean, eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to keep the snacking to a minimum.

Try to get some sort of movement in your day. No treadmill? Fine. Do some small exercises. Anything to get you up off of the couch, off of your phone or computer, and get the blood flowing. It doesn't have to be P90X or some insanely expensive online service. Just do some damn jumping-jacks and sit-ups. Maybe some body-weight squats.... ANYTHING.

Once the boredom starts to eat at you - take this as a time to learn a new hobby, craft, language, trade... anything. There are literally thousands of videos online to teach you fun, new things! Want to learn sign language? DO IT! Want to learn how to hit on that hot Croatian girl down the hall? LEARN THE LANGUAGE! You've got time... and you should take advantage of that time. Hell, take the time to Spring Clean your house/apartment/cardboard box. I mean like Marie Kondo that shit!

And last - try to limit your social media intake. Jesus on a roller coaster.... nothing is more toxic than social media right now.

Focus on yourself and your family (if you have one living with you). Try to better yourself while the world seems to fall apart on the outside.... Might as well come into the apocalypse knowing how to set snares for rabbits and squirrels! *free online videos for that!*

Take care of yourself, people. We'll all get through this. It'll pass... maybe like a kidney stone... but it'll pass.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Achievement Unlocked - F*CK YOU, STUDENT LOANS!

Good morning, world!

Despite the dumpster fire raging across the land, I've been on a mission to find a silver lining - something that would bring me joy and make my life less... stressful. Aside from watching the news, what is the most stressful thing I can think of? - Student Loans.

It's hard to enjoy life when you're barely scraping by some months. Add to that the mandatory student loan payment every month on top of your other bills - things get uncomfortable. So you ask for lower payments and occasional forbearances to give you breathing room. The good people at Navient and the Dept. of Education don't care. They're still going to charge interest while you try to come up for air.

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Unwelcome Anxiety of Memory.

The Unwelcome Anxiety of Memory.

I can't speak for anyone else, but as we approach the 17th anniversary of "Shock and Awe" and the invasion of Iraq... I find myself getting anxious. Just like I do every year. I don't know if this anniversary is the cause of massive anxiety attack today, or just a convenient excuse - but I sort of feel like the two may be connected.

Shock and Awe on the television

I can't really explain it. I don't actively think about it, it just happens. Every year. And it sucks.

In March of 2003, I was twenty-four, and I was at Camp Doha Kuwait. As the month progressed and rhetoric of war started getting more and more pronounced - things changed...

At the beginning of March, we upped our training schedule. We started going everywhere in groups of two or more. Things were changing. We conducted more and more MOPP drills... (Mission Oriented Protective Posture - your nuclear, biological, and chemical protective suit). We were living in a warehouse in Camp Doha. An entire company's worth of soldiers crammed into on giant, open-air space with all of their gear confined to a 3'x4' plot of personal space. In one corner, we had a small television set up. We watched the news and re-runs of The Simpsons with Arabic subtitles... Then, one day, all of the channels became news only...

Shock and Awe started on the 18th/19th of March. The ground forces followed behind on the 20th... Between the 18th and 27th I remember the missiles launched at Camp Doha. The air-raid sirens, the MOPP drills, sitting bunkers as we waited for the all-clear. I remember being on my phone with home when the sirens sounded and I dropped the phone and took off running for the bunker and my pro-mask. (protective mask) - when I eventually called home again, my family was in tears. They didn't know what had happened. They just know I said "oh fuck" and hung up.

Then... I remember my dad's birthday on March 27th - my last phone call to them before we headed out. They were eating at Hooters for his dinner (his favorite place to eat). I couldn't talk long, I was already in trouble for skipping out to make the call, and we'd just had a close-call with a Rocket/Missile attack - Hooray for the Patriot Missile Defense Battery!

I just said "I can't talk. We're packing up and heading north. I love you. Happy birthday." - I apparently ruined my dad's 53rd birthday. Which was not my intent, but it's easy to forget that 6,000 miles away, my family was trying to go on with their day-to-day lives and my little calls were just a dick-punch to remind them of where I was and what I was doing.

While my family ate the remainder of their birthday dinner in silence, my unit loaded up and headed to Navistar at the Kuwait/Iraq border. There we lined up with the other trucks and supplies and waited. We slept in the back of 5-Tons and Deuces. Then we were in Iraq - weapons loaded and futures unsure. I didn't speak to them again on the phone until May.

Now, thirteen years later, those memories surface as anxiety - unbidden... And I fucking hate it.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Preppers and rice!

I am going to talk today about a little thing I like to call, "You bought WHAT?"

I was in the Army for 10 years. Well, National Guard AND the Army for a total of 10 years. Point is, I spent a lot of time being dirty and hungry in some really unpleasant places. After my time in, I've become fond of things like being clean, eating food... not getting shot at... you know, things like that. And lately, I keep watching the news and I keep seeing a lot of panic talk about Coronavirus and other stuff.  And I believe it is strictly panic talk. I don't put a lot of stock into the doomsday people who claim that this will be "THE NEXT PLAGUE!!" - those people can piss right off.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Frank - A Short Story


Written by: Benjamin W. Bass

“Can you tell me your name?”
“Frank... er, Francis James Ackerman...  People just call me Frank.”
“May I call you Frank?”
“Good. Do you know why you are here, Frank?”
“I was told you could help me get a job.”
“That we can, Frank. We help people get jobs.”
“That’s good.”
“You signed the red-form, right, Frank?”
“That’s good. Am I coming through the earpiece all right, Frank?”
“Yes. I hear you fine.”
“Good, Frank. We’re about to start the procedure.”
“That’s good. Will I be awake the whole time?”
“More or less, Frank.”
“What’s it like?”
“I’ve been told it’s a little disorienting, but painless.”
“That’s good. I guess.”
“We’re starting the calibration, Frank, you should feel…”
“I can feel it. What kind of job will I get?”
“Based on your scores, Frank, the computer will pick a job that suites your creativity, skills and…”
“I think I’m falling.”
“Right, Frank. You may feel like you’re falling a little, but I assure you, you’re fine.”
“I’ll say. Wow. That’s… ungh!”
“Yeah, Frank, I may have lied about the painless part.”
“Sorry, Frank. Moving up to forty-percent.”
“I can remember things.”
“That’s good, Frank, just let it happen. Don’t try to hold on to any of the memories. Just let them in.”
“I… Oh, god.”
“Just relax, Frank.”
“This isn’t…”
“Let it in, Frank. Let the machine do its job. Up to sixty-percent now.”
“Doing great, Frank. Almost there.”
“I…. Hngggh.”
“Up to ninety. Pushing to one hundred.”
“AH! I…”
“Full strength now, Frank. Just hang in there.”
“Can’t… told…”
“I’m sure you were told many things, Frank. We’re almost there.”
“And, go!”
“How’s it read? Good? Okay. Private Ackerman, can you hear me?”
“Can you hear me, Private?”
“Y… yes.  Yes, sir!”
“Good, Private. How do you feel?”
“I have a headache, sir.”
“That’ll pass soon, son.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Yes, sir?”
“What is your name?”
“Private Ackerman, Francis James. U.N.E.F.! Serial Number 45-34K-J1, sir!”
“That’s excellent, Private. The restraints on your arms will now release. Do not touch the connectors on your head. you’ll need them. Proceed out the door, turn left and follow the yellow line to advanced combat training.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, Private. Send in the next applicant, nurse.”

Monday, January 20, 2020

Sick and tired of being sick... and tired.

Laziness is a hard habit to break... 

A friend of mine made a comment about "wanting to become healthier" recently on his Twitter feed and that really got me thinking. It got me thinking about myself and my current state of health.

I, like many of you, like to drink alcohol. It's a nice way to wind down after a long, stressful day. But this isn't healthy.

I also like food. Especially foods that have been coated in some sort of breading and dropped into a vat of boiling oil... But this isn't healthy.

I have become lazy in my old age of 41.

Hell, I used to run all the time. I have completed THREE Spartan Races - which were a LOT of fun. But that was then... this is now. In the last year or so, I've stopped with the balanced meals. My free time is spent watching the tv. And it slowly became a habit. Now it's just life. I keep putting things off for "later" because laziness and procrastination have become comfort foods to me.

But I have come to recognize that laziness and procrastination are destructive to my word. When you take on a task you make a promise to somebody (perhaps just yourself, but somebody) that you will complete that task. But being lazy means you are breaking your word... That’s not bad, or wrong, it just is. It's impacting my life. It's impacting my ability to write... And that needs to change.

You can't fix a problem with good intentions. You can't get healthy just by not wanting to be unhealthy anymore. You can't just research "How to get off the couch" and not put it into practice.

You have to get up.

You have to move.

I'm really sick of being out of shape. I'm sick of being lazy. I'm sick of being sick of it all... I've got more false-starts than I care to.

I'm sick of the amount of time I spend on the couch...

I am at the beginning of this new journey - I'm making today DAY ONE!  And I'll take as many DAY ONEs as I need until I find that motivation and that drive. I need to dig down, dig deep, get up and GET MOVING!!

Anyone want to join me on this trip?