Death with Dignity

In just over a year, my mother-in-law has lost both of her parents. They were wonderful people and we all miss them. My wife’s grandfather died first, last year, not long after the lockdown started. It was sudden, but not a surprise either. He’d been declining steadily over the past few years. He fell at home and just never recovered.

After he passed, my wife’s grandma moved up and lived about 20 feet away from my in-laws. She seemed to be doing very well for a little while, apart from the deep sadness of losing her husband of over 50 years.

Over the winter, though, we noticed a change in her breathing. A labor and raspiness that wasn’t there before. Early in the spring, she had a scan and her cancer was back. The doctor gave her a couple of months, even with treatment.

She chose not to pursue treatment. People choose not to receive treatment for all sorts of reasons. Some people want to pursue naturopathic methods until it’s too late1. Others don’t seek treatment out of denial. Some want death on their own terms2. But Marlene Vittitow’s reason was different. When I think about it, I can’t help feeling fortunate to have known her in this life.

She took a few days before making her decision. She preferred not to go through treatment again. She’d done that years before, and she knew just how awful it was. And it wouldn’t do anything more than delay the inevitable. So, she met with her pastor to discuss it. Her main concern wasn’t about pain avoidance or even for more time with family. She was most concerned about if she should pursue treatment, so she might have time for even one more opportunity to share the gospel.

Hers was a life so well spent that she felt no need to fight to extend it. And so, it ended peacefully at 8:03 on 16 July 2021. My wife was able to be there, gathered around with her family, as she passed on to be with her Savior.

In “The Death of Ivan Ilych” Leo Tolstoy describes the horror with which Ivan Ilych faces the realization of his impending death. He is tormented by the question of if his life was a good life.

’Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’

The Death of Ivan Ilych

Grandma Vittitow’s life was, in many ways, “proper,” but not in the successful, esteemed-among-humanity sort of way. Instead, she lived a life of quiet faithfulness.

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Eliot, Middlemarch

She was always the first to point attention, and thanks, back to God, where it belonged, in any and every situation. But especially so when she was the recipient of praise. Hers was a “faithful, hidden life.” But her tomb will not go unvisited.

Permission to Breathe

A little while back, I posted about my commitment to posting on this blog. But it’s been a couple of weeks and I haven’t posted. I haven’t abandoned my blog, though. I have been working through a lot that’s been going on over the past few weeks, and I needed to scale back on what I was doing. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day to take care of everything.

Normally, I would have felt guilty about stepping back from some tasks and commitments, but this time I chose to reframe how I thought about it.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

— Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)

I still stand by my commitment, but I’m beginning to learn what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes might have meant. Sometimes it is a time to refrain. When it’s time to refrain, it’s actually worse to try to push on. For my own mental and physical health, I took a little while to refrain. But I’m coming back.

I’ll write more again soon.

Keeping Quotes

When I was a young man, I started writing down quotes that I found interesting, inspiring, or funny. I think I was probably inspired by a book my grandpa published when I was twelve, 1001 Great Stories and Quotes. It’s a habit I’ve kept up over the years, though with waxing and waning consistency. When I hear or read something that sparks my interest, I try to record it for future reference.

If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

— Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”

After a year or so, I started keeping the quotes in a notebook dedicated to the purpose. I found it was much easier to reference them there than to sort through my regular journals or loose-leaf notes to find the quote I wanted. I didn’t order or arrange them in any way, other than the order in which I discovered them. This has had its benefits and its detriments.

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.

— Marlene Dietrich

One of the fun little bits is to go through them and see them in the order I wrote them down. Since I remember roughly when I wrote some of them, I can estimate about what time in my life that particular quote seemed important. As I now begin the process of transferring them to a new, more durable notebook, I am careful to keep them in the same order and to not remove any of them; even if I find them silly or unimportant now. When I look back later, it is almost a sort of diary or journal to see the things that struck me as important or deep as a teenager. It’s enjoyable to get an indirect peek back into my mind at those stages.

Contrariwise, the most annoying thing is probably that, with no organizing structure, it is difficult to find a specific quote. If I know the exact quote I am looking for, I have no real way to find it quickly unless I can remember when I first encountered it. It also has the downside of not being able to find related quotes easily. If quotes were grouped by topic, I would be able to look up one quote about, let’s say, quotations and there would be other quotes about quotations nearby. Instead, with them lacking any arrangement other than by date of discovery, it can certainly be annoying when I know exactly what I’m looking for. In order to navigate right to what I want, I would need to know roughly when I wrote it down and roughly the order of all the other quotes.

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

But this is also its greatest strength, in my opinion. Since I am forced to skim through everything to find what I want, I am constantly experiencing the joy of rediscovery as I find quotes I had copied down and forgotten about. The joy of serendipity more than outweighs the inconveniences in finding what I wanted.

It seems to me that we often make things too easy on ourselves. For a while, I used an app on my phone to collect and organize my quotes. It was really nice and I loved it. When the app died, I was upset at first, but I’m really grateful now. It had made finding the exact quote I wanted so easy that I had completely lost the serendipitous discovery. As a result, I ended up returning to the same handful of quotes because those were the ones that came to memory. Since switching back to a physical notebook, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been looking for a quote and stopped because I ran into a quote I had completely forgotten about; which spoke to me more in the moment than the quote for which I started searching.

This experience is worth too much to me. I want to go back to a system where I can find my saved quotes more readily, but I worry that it will cost too much.

This leads me to my current decision. As a mentioned above, I found that the notebook in which I kept my collection of quotes was beginning to fall apart, so I’ve started transferring all the quotes in their exact original order into a new notebook. But, as I build out my PKM (Personal Knowledge Management. More on this in the future…) in Obsidian, I really want to put my quotes in there as well. I can cross-link them and index and tag them to tease out how the ideas and concepts interrelate. But I’m hesitant to do that because I feel it would be better not to lose that serendipitous re-discovery.

But, I suppose the beauty of a digital system is that if I find that I am not using the notebook to rediscover what I had loved and forgotten, I can always delete the digital notes and force myself back.

Doctor StrangeVirus or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the COVID-19 Pandemic


On Halloween 2020 my wife was getting ready to visit her sister in Idaho who was going through an awful divorce and I began to feel a tickle in my throat. I knew it wasn’t COVID because I had been so careful; I never went anywhere without my mask, I hadn’t been around anyone who had it, and I washed my hands religiously whenever I returned home.

Since my wife was flying, though, I went to get tested first thing the next day just to be safe.


I woke up to the above message on my phone the next morning. Delightful.

COVID was awful. The body aches were no joke and the brain fog was debilitating. But the strangest part of it was waking up a few days in and having no sense of taste.

I had lost my sense of smell as a teenager. I suspect it is psychosomatic, since the last thing I can remember smelling before losing it was the overpowering smell of death as I climbed under a neighbor’s porch to retrieve a cat that had died a few weeks before in the midwestern summer heat. The stench was all-consuming as my face was inches from the rotting corpse. I think at that point my brain decided that smells were, perhaps, just not worth the trouble. I retained a few smells that I could detect, smoke, fouled diapers, and bacon. Beyond that, it was as if my brain said, “I’ll let you know if it’s important, otherwise let’s not worry about that anymore.”

So, I didn’t even notice the loss of smell. But the loss of taste was immediately apparent and quite shocking. The day after I lost it, I was sitting at my desk in my study working. Next to me, I had my morning coffee, a glass of room temperature water and a glass of cold orange juice. The only way to tell them apart was the temperature and consistency. If it was cold and pulpy it could only be the orange juice, if it was hot, it must be the coffee. But there was absolutely no difference in taste. There was no taste at all. Before I lost it, I expected that everything would just taste like water. But it turns out that water does have a taste, and even that taste had gone. It’s hard to describe how disorienting that actually was.

As with so many others, I did get pretty sick. I had body aches and extreme fatigue to the point that climbing the stairs required near herculean effort. My wife also was very ill at the same time, and how we managed to keep our children alive was a wonder. Some days all we managed was to throw a frozen pizza in the oven and go back to lay on the couch.

I am fortunate enough, being a programmer, that I could actually work almost all the way through fighting COVID-19. I did have to take one sick day through the whole ordeal. That day I found myself gasping for breath at my desk. The mere act of sitting in my chair left me winded, feeling as if I had run a marathon.

However, the worst part of the disease, for me, was the brain fog. I think that fog was probably the best word to describe it that I could think of. It was such a strange phenomenon; it wasn’t just my thoughts that seemed foggy, but even physical sensations felt indistinct and confusing. I even caught myself staring at the blinking cursor on my screen


unsure of what I was doing and why I would want to log output to the console there. Was I debugging? What was I debugging? What did I hope to learn from that output?

Part of me wonders if that might be what an amnesiac feels as he tries to regain himself. Slowly, it started to fade. It faded, but it didn’t go away. I found myself relying on my notes more and more, but I also found that when I would try to take notes, I would touch the pen to paper but not know how to summarize the salient points. This continued on for months.

As the brain fog continued over those months, my mental health deteriorated. I tried to get out and walk every day on my lunch hour to stimulate my mind and body, but it didn’t make a difference. I was getting more and more depressed. My ability to evaluate the events in my life was completely skewed, but the irony was that even with the brain fog, I felt like I had never thought more clearly. I couldn’t remember anything and struggled to reason through my work sometimes, but when it came to understanding the trajectory of my life; I felt like I was crystal clear.

Finally, in March my wife convinced me to speak with my doctor who was quite concerned for me. We spoke for a long time about my health concerns, and she told me just how concerned she was for my mental health. The doctor wanted me to exercise more and to eat healthier, and we spoke about some herbal supplements I could take. She had me schedule a follow-up call after a month to see if I had improved and if I hadn’t, she was going to prescribe something more.

This is why I am thankful for what I experienced through COVID-19 and the pandemic. I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s pain by saying that. I understand how terrible it has been for everyone, and I appreciate the deep pain of those who lost loved ones to this awful disease. But, I say I’m grateful for the things I learned from my experience because it forced me to make needed changes.

For years, I had made excuses to not exercise, or justified eating too much junk, not eating the salad and staying up too late. My weight had crept up, my mood had slowly trended downward, and my stamina had decreased. But since the declines were gradual over a long time, I hardly noticed. When I had some minor lingering effects after COVID (and I know that others had it much worse) it brought all of those other issues out in the open. To get back to myself after COVID I would need to address the other health issues I had been ignoring.

I bought a bike

My wife, also, was working on making some changes to her fitness and overall health. She bought a hybrid bicycle, so I bought one too. I thought it would be fun to bike with her; maybe that would be enough to get me to exercise.

At first, going five miles (around eight km) was a stretch. It was difficult and I came back sore. Then I found I was getting less sore. Then I could go seven miles (roughly 11 km); then ten. I left one Saturday morning and got on the trail, intending to go around 8 miles (almost 13 km) total, but instead I went 8 miles before turning around. It felt good. I wasn’t better yet, but my depression was lessening, and my general mood was rising. Even my insomnia was starting to go away.

I found that I loved cycling. I loved everything about it. I love the beauty of riding nature trails and seeing the deer and birds and turtles and toads. I love exploring new trails and routes and visiting places I’ve only ever driven by; sometimes stopping to look closer just because I can. I love the speed and that feeling of effortless tension when the gearing is just right.

And I love the feeling of being healthy again. I’m healthier now than I ever have been, and I know I wouldn’t be now if I hadn’t been sick. I would have continued on in a slow, hardly noticeable decline. Each year a little more irritable than the one before, needing to buy new clothes every few years as my waistline gradually increased.

But now I need to replace much of my wardrobe because after dropping around 35 pounds (ca. 16 kg) this year. And I am happier and more present than I have been in years. I feel recharged spending time with my kids and want to spend more time with them instead of seeking alone time. My productivity has gone up at work too. I still have to work through problems that seem difficult, but I don’t feel like I’m forgetting the basics anymore. I feel like I’m back. And, obviously to you, I’m writing again. I’m writing out of an intrinsic desire to write rather than a feeling of duty. So many things had become a task to be completed just so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not doing them, but I’m actually finding enjoyment in them again, and I’m really thankful for that. God is good.

Professor Florian Graves

For a few years now I’ve had the idea for some detective stories floating around in my mind. I’ve always wanted to try to write murder mysteries. I finally began working on some and I plan to publish them here as I finish them. I know they are not great yet, but I want to share them all the same. I’ve created a page to house all of the stories on the website here Professor Graves Mysteries. The first story “Silence in the Library” is up now. I hope you enjoy and please provide feedback if you feel inclined. It will help me in my quest to improve as a writer.

– Brian

Silence in the Library

The body lay in the middle of the floor, sprawled in exactly that sort of pose one comes to associate with the chalk outlines on prime-time police procedural dramas. Detective Fleming noticed his position right away and thought it odd. The campus security had escorted Fleming and his partner, Detective Maria Sandoval, to the body. “It’s funny, in a way, you don’t always see a body that’s positioned like it belongs on TV.” She looked at him and offered a non-committal “hmph.” They spiraled in as they approached, taking in the body and its immediate surroundings from as many angles as they could, looking for anything that stuck out or seemed out of place.

The early arrivers had already started to gather. A few students who had come to study early were peering over the police tape. One, an older gentleman, probably a professor, had even sat at one of the tables with his hands resting one over the other atop his walking stick. His chin perched between the first and second fingers of his right hand; his head tilted slightly, and his lips pursed in a mournful expression.

Detective Fleming stopped and addressed the group of seven or so onlookers, “Hello everyone, my name is Detective Erik Fleming with the Chicago Police Department…”

“Like the James Bond guy?” A lanky young man interrupted.

Fleming sighed, “No, that’s Ian Fleming, no relation. If you could please all be so kind as to stay back while we investigate the scene. If you have information you feel may be pertinent we invite you to share it with us once the coroner arrives. Until then, you will all need to stay here.”

“You don’t think he was murdered, do you?” A girl with a messy ponytail and overalls, who stood chewing her thumbnail, asked.

“We’re not committing to anything yet,” Dt. Sandoval answered.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no.” The young woman murmured to herself, and went back to chewing her thumbnail and glancing around the room. Sandoval followed her eyes to a ceiling mounted security camera.

She made a mental note and returned to the body as Fleming knelt beside her, and she began listing her initial impressions. “Young Caucasian male. Late teens or very early twenties. Brown hair and medium build, slightly overweight. There are numerous scratches on his neck, see that?” She used her pen to move his collar aside, so Fleming could have a better look.

“Yeah, those look pretty fresh,” Fleming noted, “probably perimortem.”

The professor looked up at the vaulted ceiling of Harper Memorial Library and closed his eyes. He remained that way for some moments before he opened his eyes and shifted, returning his silent gaze and attention to the two detectives.

He sighed and began speaking softly to himself, “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them…”

The room had quieted enough that the detectives were able to hear him from where they kneeled by the body and Fleming’s ears perked up at the word “kill.”

“Whoa, what was that?” He started back over to where the professor was sitting. “What were you saying about killing?”

“Oh dear, I’m sorry.” The older man looked up, shaken from his musings. “I was quoting Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms.’ ‘The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.’ It came to mind as I was thinking about the tragedy of such a young man dying.”

“Hmmm,” Fleming grunted and squinted his eyes at the professor as he turned and walked back to the body.

Detective Sandoval was still examining the body “Blue hue to his lips, probably cyanosis due to lack of oxygen. Do you think, maybe, strangulation?”

“Possibly, we should have the coroner check his hyoid, but it would be consistent with the scratches on his neck if… Check his fingernails.”

“Yeah, it looks like skin and blood there. We’ll get the DNA matched, but those scratches were probably self-inflicted.” Maria Sandoval held her own hands to her neck, curling her fingers in and drawing her hands down; miming how the wounds might have been inflicted. “If he was strangled, that’s just how he’d try to get whatever object it was off of him.”

From one of the tables on the opposite side of the room a uniformed officer walked over with a student ID card in her gloved hand. “His name is Andy Stevens. He’s a freshman here.” She gestured with the card.

“Yes, I could have told you that from the start. He’s one of my students,” came a reply. All three officers turned to see the professor rising to his feet. “It breaks my heart to see. I, I can’t bear to think of what it will be for his parents.” He paused a moment to look at each of them in turn, “I am Professor Florian Graves. I teach English here. I don’t suppose you’d let me tag along; I promise I’ll stay out of the way and just observe. I’ve always loved a mystery; I fancy myself a bit of a hobbyist detective, you know.”

Fleming let out a brief and quiet groan. The uniformed officer muttered, “There’s always one,” Under her breath.

The Professor looked at her name badge, “Yes, I’m terribly sorry. I understand your reluctance. I don’t mean to insert myself into your process at all. I just had hoped to be able to observe.”

Sandoval turned her back to the Professor and spoke sotto voce to Fleming, “We’ll need to ask him some questions anyway. Those scratches look like foul play, and he knew the victim. As long as he stays out of the way I don’t see the harm.”

Fleming closed his eyes and shook his head side to side as if saying “no,” but instead he whispered back, “Ugh, fine.”

“You,” he said, pointing to the Professor, “we’ve got some questions to ask you. You can follow along, but you’d better stay out of our way, or I will arrest you.”

The Professor briefly smiled a tight, sad smile as he stepped forward.

“When was the last time you saw the victim and what are you doing in the library this morning?” Detective Sandoval asked.

The Professor thought for a moment, “It must have been at class on Thursday, I don’t take roll, but I do believe I saw him there. As to my being in the library, I am an English professor and this is a library. I mean no disrespect. I come here most days to peruse or just be available to students who might have questions.”

“Students like Mr. Stevens.” Sandoval offered.

“Yes, if he’d been alive and had questions he, like all of my students, knew that he could stop me as I walked by to discuss.”

“Did Mr. Stevens ever stop you to ask questions?”

“No, I don’t remember him ever doing so.”

“Did Mr. Stevens have any enemies or anyone he didn’t get along with?”

“I can’t say that he did, but I didn’t know him well enough to comment with much certainty on his social life.”

“Thank you. If we have other questions, I’ll let you know.” Fleming said.

“Yes, well, I’ll be around.” The Professor replied and stepped back a couple of feet until he was satisfied that he would be in no one’s way while remaining in the thick of the action.

“Well, since we’re talking to people already,” Sandoval muttered to herself.

“Miss,” she gestured to the thumbnail biter, “do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”

“What? Why? Uh, sure, I guess, why?” She answered.

“I’m Detective Sandoval. What’s your name?”

“Al- Alma, Alma Gutiérrez. Why do you want to talk to me? What’s going on?”

“Well, Alma, I noticed you looking around earlier. You seemed interested in the security cameras earlier. Why was that?”

“Oh, that?” Alma almost chuckled. “Well, I was just thinking that it was really bad timing that this happened last night, since the security cameras were down.”

Sandoval swore under her breath. “How do you know they were down?”

“Because she was the one who brought them down in the first place.” An older man with a crisp goatee and deep chocolate eyes stepped closer to Alma as he said this. “She’s upgrading all the security cameras and software currently. I’m advising her on this project for my class.”

“And you are?” Dt. Sandoval asked.

“Marcus DuBois, I teach software design and development here. Miss. Gutiérrez has designed a new CCTV system in my class and has been installing the equipment and servers.”

“So, you knew the security cameras would be down last night?” Detective Sandoval asked, turning again to Alma.

Alma glanced quickly at Sandoval then to Professor Graves and then to DuBois before she replied, “Well, yeah. But it’s not like I thought anything was going to happen. I mean why would it? And I was in the server room and security closet for the entire night.”

“Can you corroborate that, Professor DuBois?”

“No, unfortunately I cannot. I was at home last night with my family.”

“I see,” continued Sandoval, “is there anyone who can confirm your whereabouts?”

Alma glanced at her professor nervously. “What? Nu-no. No one. Nope.”

Before she could ask any follow-up questions, Detective Fleming called over. “Hey Maria, come take a look at this.”

“Stay right here. I’ll be back with more questions.”

Professor Graves stood a moment longer watching Alma before he turned to follow Dt. Sandoval as she walked over to where Fleming was standing. As she approached where the young man had left his backpack beside a stack of books and his laptop, Fleming pointed to the papers and contents of the backpack spread around the table and onto the floor. “Looks like afterwards the killer was looking for something.”

“You’re thinking there was a killer, then?” She asked.

“Yeah, and it looks like there was a struggle.” He nodded toward a bookshelf next to the table. Several feet of books had been pulled off the bottom shelf and flung around the aisle.

“Alright,” she replied, “let’s see if this makes any sense. He’s studying at the table. He realizes he needs another book, so he gets up to get it and walks over to the book case…”

“Or maybe he was lured over.” Detective Sandoval offered.

“Yeah, maybe he demanded the victim give him whatever it was he wanted…”

“Or she.” Sandoval interrupted, “I was just talking to that I.T. girl, Alma Gutiérrez, and she had disabled the security cameras for an upgrade. She says she was in the security closet and server room all night but when I asked if anyone can confirm that she said no. She seemed pretty nervous when I asked about her being alone.”

“Hmmm. Ok. Interesting.” Fleming mused aloud as he looked over Sandoval’s shoulder at Alma. “Well, he or she, either way, didn’t like being told ‘no.’ Our victim comes over to the bookshelves and is attacked. He’s kicking and flailing to get free and that’s how the books get knocked loose.” Fleming looked up from the books on the floor to the body and raised his eyes from the body to the opposite wall and the “Exit” sign. “He manages to get free and makes straight for the exit, probably yelling for help.”

“Alright. But the attacker was faster and caught up to him and threw something around his neck and strangled him with it. No bruising to indicate what it was. We’ll see if they can lift any fibers to determine what it was.” Sandoval continued the rundown.

“Good,” said Fleming. Then he continued the narrative, “then our guy came back to the backpack and searched through it.” Inspecting the backpack with gloved hands as he spoke, he added, “He certainly was thorough, every zipper on this thing is open.”

“What about the wallet? Was there anything left in there?”

Fleming reached over and grabbed the evidence bag, extracting the wallet and opening it. “Nope. No cash, but the bank card is still in here. Makes sense. The killer can explain away cash, if they’re stopped, but it’s hard to explain why you have a dead guy’s ATM card.”

“Yes.” Professor Graves stepped forward as he spoke again. Both detectives turned to look at him in annoyance. He had promised to stay out of the way but was already interjecting himself. “That’s very true. But, I think the main problem I have with it is that I’m almost positive that’s not how it happened. I don’t believe there was a killer. Well, not a human killer at any rate.”

“We were just talking about this. There are clear signs of a struggle. There are perimortem injuries to his neck and the bookcase was disturbed, plus his backpack was ransacked.” Detective Fleming didn’t try to hide the annoyance in his voice.

“Plus,” Detective Sandoval added, “there’s clearly something fishy going on with the Gutiérrez girl. She knows more than she’s willing to tell.”

“Yes, I suspect I know what’s going on there as well. If you don’t mind, I think I can ask her a question that will clear that up. If I’m right about that, I’ll explain what I think happened.”

“If you’re wrong you will go back and stay out of the way.” Fleming growled back.

Graves nodded his head as he answered. Then, as Dt Sandoval turned to call Alma over he added, “And, Detective Sandoval, would you please have Miss Gutiérrez come apart from Professor DuBois? I think we’ll get a clearer picture from her without him.”

Fleming and Graves watched as Detective Sandoval walked over to the small crowd and spoke quietly to Miss Gutiérrez and then returned with her. Alma looked uneasy and stared at the body as she walked past him, even though he was covered now.

“Hello Miss Gutiérrez,” Professor Graves began, “I know you’re scared and nervous and that’s very natural. But I did have one question I wanted to ask you now that Professor DuBois is not here to hear you. When you were working last night, were you actually alone? Did you perhaps have a visitor and weren’t supposed to?”

Alma looked frightened and looked back and forth between the detectives before she looked back over her shoulder toward DuBois. Relieved that he was well out of earshot, she finally took a deep breath and answered.

“Yes. I know we’re not supposed to have anyone over when we’re working on the project. We’re graded on it being our own work. But I was so hungry, so my boyfriend brought me some food, and we may have made out for a bit, and it probably wouldn’t be a big deal normally, right? But he’s also in DuBois class, and then it looks like cheating, for both of us. And this project is 20% of my grade, I can’t afford to fail it and neither can he. I know I shouldn’t have said I was alone, and you’re probably going to think he did it, but he didn’t. He never even came in the building. I went out to meet him. You can probably look on the security feeds from the building next door, I wasn’t working on them. They’ll show that he never went in, and I was with him outside the whole time he was there.” She spoke so fast, the confession came so freely that she nearly seemed to need to catch her breath when she stopped speaking.

Professor Graves smiled another tight, sad smile as he turned to the detectives. “Yes, I supposed it was something like that. Thank you, my dear. That’s all we needed from you. You may go back for now.”

She left, walking quickly and stiffly past the body, this time keeping her eyes straight ahead until she was past it.

“And now,” Prof. Graves moved over to the bookshelf and supported himself on his cane as he lowered himself to his hands and knees. “And now, I believe I shall reveal the real killer.”

He pushed his cane under the bookshelf and made a large sweeping motion. A small grey object slid out from under the bookcase, stopping as it collided with Detective Fleming’s foot. Both detectives looked at it.

“Asthma.” It was an inhaler. The professor continued speaking as he rose to his feet. “Mr. Stevens ransacked his own backpack looking for his inhaler when he began having trouble breathing. In his frenzy to find it, he accidentally dropped it, and it slid under the bookshelf. Mr. Stevens then tore the books from the bookshelf, trying desperately to find a space that he could reach down underneath to the inhaler. He probably then ran for help or for something to try to fish it out like I just did, but it was too late. The more he panicked and the faster he moved, the faster he ran out of the little air he could still breathe. You rightly deduced that he inflicted those scratches himself as he clawed for oxygen. But it wasn’t an assailant, it was his own lungs he was fighting. The poor boy.

“I believe that fits all the facts quite well.”

Erik Fleming looked at the professor, now standing quietly before them. “Asthma.” He repeated. “How did you figure on asthma?”

“Oh, I wasn’t sure it was asthma until I saw the inhaler at your feet. It might have been severe allergies.” But the fact that only the bottom row was disturbed puzzled me. If it was disturbed in a fight I would have expected the rows at shoulder height to have displayed as much or more of the disturbance. If there was no fight, then it was simply a question of why. Why would someone tear apart the bottom shelf? Perhaps to get at something underneath? If there was no fight he might’ve been alone and in that case, it seemed to me that it might have been the medicine he was after. Then it was just a matter of looking for anything that wouldn’t fit that story. Nothing did.

“As for the girl, I’ve been a teacher for long enough that I can spot when a student is worried about her grade. Miss Gutiérrez was clearly nervous around Marcus and seemed very concerned that he should believe she was alone. Since she was working on a solo project, that made sense if she’d bent the rules a bit.”

As Professor Graves walked away the two detectives heard him muttering to himself, “It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”

A Change of Scenery

Photo by Teanna Morgan on Unsplash

Last weekend I was quite productive. I was more productive than I have been in a long time. Over the course of a five-day weekend I wrote and published a blog post, read a book I bought over a year ago, edited half of my own book, as well as rode around 50k on my brother-in-law’s borrowed bike.

And I did all of this while feeling like I was taking time off and relaxing. I don’t say this to brag about how capable I am. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I want to figure out what it was that made the weekend so productive so that I can repeat it. Why could I do so much more on this vacation than I normally do on vacations, and why was I able to do more while “relaxing” than I do on weekends when I don’t take any time off? And what lessons can I learn from that?

Just the Facts, Ma’am

The weekend was a surprise vacation that my wife planned for me with my brothers and parents. My parents were driving their camper across the country, and they picked me up on the last leg of their journey, from Chicago to Denver. After spending a few days with my family, I flew home.

In doing some thinking after I got back, I think I’ve found three things that made the trip such fertile ground for productivity; planning, distance and novelty.


Serendipitously, the week after I returned The Art of Manliness published an article on how Ernest Hemingway would plan his leisure time (A Lesson From Ernest Hemingway in Why You Should Plan Your Weekends). He wanted to make sure that he got the most out of life, including his “free time” and so he had some structure to it. It occurred to me as I was reading this that that is precisely what I had done on my trip. I hadn’t sat down with a planner and planned out what I would be doing at specific times, but leading up to the vacation I had figured out what I would like to do while on the trip.

I knew I would have some time when my sister’s family would be busy or my brothers would be at work and I would be left to my own devices. So, I thought that I could work on some of the projects I had been making slow progress on during those times, so I gathered what I would need to work on them. Sure enough, several hours each day I found myself unoccupied and could grab one of the projects and start working on it. I was prepared for it because I had planned. And because I had planned to have several things to work on I was able to bounce between them if I got stuck or bored doing the same thing for too long.


Because I was so far from home, I had fewer interruptions too. Certainly, I had interruptions. I was visiting family I hadn’t seen in over a year, but many of the can-you-open-this-pickle-jar-for-me or why-does-my-phone-say-it’s-not-on-the-wifi type interrupt just weren’t there because I was absent from my family. (That’s not to complain about my family. I love them, and I’m happy to help them with whatever they need, but those types of interruptions are focus assassins). The added friction of my physical distance kept me from those mundane interruptions and so the times I was able to work were more focussed than normal.


And because I was in an unfamiliar place I was forced to think about things in a new way. That seems dramatic, but I’ve noticed that as I go through my day I tend to think as well as act on a routine. When I drive to work in the mornings, I usually think about the same things along the way. Familiar landmarks remind me of what I was thinking about the last time I passed them, and then I begin thinking about the same things all over again. But when I’m out of my element I have to think about even such boring tasks as getting a cup of coffee, I have no muscle memory for where the mugs are. I am unburdened by the subconscious associations of my environment, so I feel like thinking new and novel thoughts is that much easier.


To try to capitalize on these observations I am going to try, before taking a vacation or even a weekend to ask:

Plan: “What do I want to walk away with from this time?”

Distance: “Am I able to silence my phone or go on DND? Can I set expectations with people to avoid interruptions?”

Novelty: “Are there parks or cafés (now that things are starting to reopen) that I can go to? Is there music or sound machines I can use to drown out familiar background noise?”

A New Commitment
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

As I begin the process of restarting my blog I think it is useful for me to establish my purpose and goals in blogging. What is it that I hope to get out of blogging? I want to be a better writer. I want to grow and learn in the craft. To that end I think that posting on this blog will help me by keeping me accountable as I am forced to post on a schedule. Ideally, I will be able to get feedback from any readers I might be fortunate enough to acquire along the way as well.

I also get a lot of catharsis and enjoyment out of writing. That coupled with the introspection from learning what makes my writing better and more enjoyable (both to read and to write), and the experimentation that goes along with that make me almost giddy in anticipation.

So, where does that leave me? To what am I willing to commit myself? I want to be careful to not overcommit and quit from being overwhelmed. I will start, I think, with the goal of posting fortnightly and the goal of gradually increasing frequency to a roughly weekly cadence. I intend to write about my journey as I try to become a writer. I like to think of these posts as “meta-writing”. I will also post some of the short stories I work on and some samples from longer projects I am working through. I hope you enjoy and are willing to embark on this adventure with me. Bon voyage!

— Brian

Fear and Loathing in a Text Editor

I’ve recently come to learn two things about myself. The first is that I enjoy writing. I really enjoy writing. When I get in the flow and the words just seem to come pouring out of my fingers. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling. Last year I wrote the first draft of a book in three months because I enjoyed doing it and didn’t want to stop writing each day.

Since then, I haven’t done much with it because the second thing I’ve learned is that I do not enjoy reading what I’ve written; I hate it.

As I’ve been slowly doing a first rough pass through the book to polish up the roughest parts of it I have more than once almost thrown in the towel and thrown the whole thing away. I read it, and it’s not anything like what I want to have written. My vocabulary feels too limited, my sentence structures are childish, and my brilliant insights are incredibly shallow. I feel like I need to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.

It’s scary to put things out there into the world. When I write I often feel as if I’m having a conversation with my imagined readers, I can almost picture them. It’s calming and makes the whole experience feel wonderfully relational. But as I prepare to actually publish something that same imaginary scenario becomes frightening, even paralyzing. When I’m writing I can adjust my words, restructure my sentences and control what I’m saying. And I control my imaginary readers in the same way, they’re all happy with it because I’m enjoying the writing process. But once I push the text out to the world it is fixed. I cannot change it anymore and the people who read it will be actual humans with their own opinions, not figments of my imagination who are receptive to my ideas and blind to my oversights.

I put care into what I’m writing and vulnerability is hard. It’s scary to let other people read and judge my work, knowing that they may not like it. Often I’ll get partway through typing something and that fear sets in and kills the creativity. The words languish in the text editor.

Am I a fraud; am I putting my naïveté on full display? When I fire up my text editor to continue working on a draft I look back on the words I’ve written, and they feel so juvenile, so poorly constructed and fragmented.

In Episode 27 of Baronfig’s Eureka Podcast Joey Cofone talks about feelings of anxiety surrounding creativity as he has been writing a book.

There’s a ton of fear, which I write about in the book. Creativity has a ton of fear involved, and you never get rid of it. But you just acknowledge it and still work anyway.

Joey Cofone

That really struck me because I really look up to what Joey has been able to do, all he’s been able to build and create at Baronfig. To hear that he knows that fear as well gave me so much encouragement.

Perhaps these feelings are part of the process.

Perhaps this anxiety is an aspect of creating that I need to learn to accept and even embrace.

Perhaps I simply need to take a deep breath and click “Publish.”


Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash.
Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash.

The past 9 months have been full of changes. I received a promotion, adopted a daughter, remodeled a bathroom and a kitchen and accepted a new position at another company. And there are more changes coming in the next couple of months, selling the house and moving across the country.

Back around Thanksgiving I was promoted at work from a Configuration Engineer to a Developer III. My friend and coworker John was also promoted from UNIX Administrator to Developer III to work on the tools. The promotions were to enable us to focus all of our efforts on the disaster recovery tool suite we had built. I felt very honored to receive that promotion. Being a full time developer has been a dream of mine for a long time.

In January, after a year and a half in foster care, we finally were able to adopt Penny. It was an amazing and emotional experience to have this little girl who we have loved and taken care of every day since she came home from the hospital become our actual daughter. I might write a separate post on that later. It was just incredible.

We also decided to sell our house and so we began some much needed remodeling of the bathroom and kitchen.

And finally, I accepted a developer position in the Chicago suburbs. This means I had to leave my job, which I’ve loved. It also means we will have to move across the country once we sell the house.

My last day at Expeditors was yesterday (17 May 2019). It was a hard day emotionally. I’ve never left a job that I loved that much and I had no complaints, no reason I wanted to leave other than I’d accepted this new job.

That said, I am really excited to start my new job remotely on Monday! I’m excited to be working with the people I’ll be working with at my new company. It’s going to be awesome.

And I’m excited to see what this new chapter of our lives holds as we move back to the midwest. I can’t wait until we sell the house and move. We will do a cross country road trip as a family and it will be so fun to show my kids that much of America.

That’s all for now. I’ll update you all soon.