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The Unapologetic Geek

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10 Things I Learned in 2010 - Page 2

Colonoscopies aren't so bad

A flexible endoscope
This is the kind of thing described by alien abductees

It's something a lot of people secretly dread but don't bring up in casual conversation. One day, if we live to be old enough and want to stay in good health, each and every one of us is going to eventually have to have a colonoscopy. Just talking about it makes us squirm in our seats, because the concept of somebody sticking a long, snaking, drain-cleaner-shaped camera up an orifice that was not intended for such things isn't the kind of thing well-adjusted people like to imagine.

It happened to me much earlier than it does for most men, but I had to do it, and I definitely wasn't looking forward to the experience. I'm happy to report, though, that it's not a big deal. In fact, the actual colonoscopy is about as stressful as a nap, assuming your anesthesiologist doesn't screw it up. So yeah, get your colonoscopies, ladies and gentlemen, because it is completely painless!

...Okay, so that's a lie. While it's true that the actual colonoscopy is painless and there are no physical aftereffects to worry about, there are a few other things you should be aware of. First of all is the prep, which takes an entire day. You aren't allowed to eat solid foods and you will be forced to take a couple of pills and drink a concoction of salty-tasting water that will make you want to vomit. You don't just drink it once either; like Dumbledore in that cave, you have to keep chugging it well passed the point where you start begging for death as a release.

That's not the worst part, though, because those pills and that horrid liquid conspire to completely clean out your digestive system. In slightly less subtle terms, you will spend several hours in the bathroom experiencing something similar to the drinking experience, only it's not your mouth and it's not going in. And when the colonoscopy is finally done with, your pain may not be over. Depending on how merciless your insurance company is, when you get the medical bills in the mail, you might get the distinct impression that it wasn't just a camera being shoved up there.

Facebook isn't so bad

I don't know these people, but something tells me I don't want to

Getting your first fiction novel published is incredibly difficult, about four-hundred-thiry-seven times as difficult as you probably think. I've often considered writing a blog or two explaining all the ways the universe conspires to squash hopeful young writers (because seriously, you don't even know, and the worst part is that everybody has naïve advice for you), but the existential madness prevents me from looking down into that abyss long enough to describe it. Therefore, when you get real advice from people in the business, you listen and you do what they say.

Despite this, I can't say I wasn't skeptical when an agent told me that I needed to be on Facebook in order to get published these days. I filed the advice away--not really intending to take it--when I came across the same thing again and again and again from multiple sources like Writer's Digest and the Writer's Market. Friends and family have been pestering me to join Facebook since its invention, and I always said no, because the whole thing seemed cultish and evil. Given the opportunity, though, I'd probably sell at least a fragment of my soul in order to get through this publishing gauntlet, so with shrugged shoulders, I created an account and logged on.

Yes, it is easy to get lost in the underworld if you start playing Farmville or participating in an arms race to get the most friends. It can be extremely addictive looking up old flames, commenting on everybody's banal thoughts, engaging in political flame wars, or just checking in on the people you know but are too lazy to call. But really, it's not all bad. As long as you don't let it dominate you and you never, ever participate in the games, Facebook can be a useful tool. Whether or not it helps me in my continued efforts to get published is still unknown, but I can say it has significantly increased my website traffic.

Parental guilt is a powerful thing

"Gha! Don't look at me like that! I'm sorry I put you in formal wear!"

One last bit of parental insight: there's guilt, and then there's parental guilt. Sure, there are people who have done things that have resulted in people dying or hundreds of kittens having their legs chopped off or something, and I'm not trying to say those people don't understand guilt. In fact, I'd say they probably understand guilt better than I ever will. For the rest of us, however, when we feel guilty about something--we made a preventable mistake or did something stupid that has long-lasting consequences--it's a distinct and not trivial feeling.

For a parent, guilt can mean something even more intense, though. Every parent is going to make mistakes, and every parent is going to feel parental guilt. A parent can even feel guilty about things that didn't actually happen. For instance, let's say you haven't slept well, you have a headache, and you're trying to get something done with a deadline looming over you. You've been working hard and it looks like you'll get your work done just in time, but then your toddler has a full-blown meltdown for no reason. The screaming is piercingly loud, the child is unconsolable, and it doesn't stop for a full hour. You're not proud of it, but you snap, shout at your kid, and storm out of the room to go hit a pillow in frustration. You will feel guilty afterwards, and it will feel almost as strong as if you'd actually lost control and hit the kid, something you know you're not capable of doing. This feeling will be overwhelming, debilitating, and terrible, and you will have mental flashes of yourself smacking your child around violently. That's the difference between regular guilt and parental guilt.

It's crazy powerful, and that's probably a good thing. Once you are responsible for another life that is totally under your control, that life should be more important than your own. Therefore, when you make a mistake--and it's truly unavoidable--it should feel worse than something you did to yourself, even if all you did was have a totally human reaction to a stressful moment.

Old projects can be repaired

A biology textbook and some duct tape
If nothing else works, there's always duct tape

A couple of years ago, I finished a labor of love called The Final Testament, but was extremely unhappy with the final product. It lead to a funk and an acute case of writer's block. Eventually, I put it away, told myself I'd fix it some day, and moved on to other things.

Last year, I was determined to go back and fix it. Sure enough, I did, and it was surprisingly easy. I learned that it can be done, and I might use that knowledge in the future to rework other things I'm unhappy with, the most important of which is Paradox.

I'm not just talking about editing here; I'm talking about major overhaul. The reason this is such a big deal for me is that I use to think that rewriting was something comparable to a sin. While I didn't rewrite The Final Testament from scratch, I did rewrite several chapters and take out some major plot points that needed to be amputated. I completely changed the ending and even changed a couple of characters' names. Now, I'm incredibly proud of the work, as proud as I am of Thesea, and a couple of years ago, I wasn't sure that was possible. Now I know that it is, and that's a good feeling.

My father was a great man

Patrick Magill
He did occasionally try to bite the faces off children, but who doesn't?

I've always admired and respected my father, and that's hardly a secret. I've known that he's had a positive influence on those around him, that he's helped countless people and touched many lives in profound ways. I knew he was a good man--a good father, a good husband, a good son, a good lawyer, etc.--but it wasn't until everyone started coming out of the woodwork at once to pay their respects to him last year, either while he was still alive or at his funeral (in most cases, both), that I came to understand that he was actually a great man.

He may not have been famous or incredibly newsworthy, but those who knew him thought the best of him and there were plenty of people who knew him. I now have a full appreciation for the fact that the world is in no small degree a better place for having had him in it. If that isn't the measure of greatness, I don't know what is. I know I can't live up to that--few of us can--and I know my father never thought of himself as great, but that's just further evidence that he was a very special kind of man.

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-e. magill 1/11/2011

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