The More Bearable Lightness of Being

A year ago, I made a decision to start tracking my food calories in an effort to lose the extra 30 pounds I’d gained in the past decade. This decision not only resulted in better health, but also a fundamental change in my awareness of food — and an improvement in my happiness, my personal relationships, and my overall quality of life.

Asleep at the Meal

For most of my life, I ate anything I wanted. I paid only a little attention to what I thought was healthy, but I was playing a lot of sports and no matter how much I ate, I never gained weight. For years I hovered effortlessly between 175 and 180 pounds.

Then at age 34 I suffered a serious injury: I tore my ACL and needed reconstructive surgery. My exercise regimen went from eight to ten hours per week of basketball and/or soccer to … nothing.

Even after surgery and physical therapy, I had enough swelling and pain from my knee that I didn’t exercise regularly for years. Every once in a while, I’d try to get re-involved in sports, but I kept reinjuring myself. After my first ultimate frisbee match, my knee swelled up like a cantaloupe … which made it also my last ultimate frisbee match.

I started to entertain the depressing possibility that I might never play sports again.

Meanwhile, I slowly gained both weight and girth. I have a sweet tooth and love to eat cookies and cakes and donuts. I have a huge weakness for cheesecake and crème brulée. By the time I turned 46, I was squeezing 215 pounds into size 38 jeans.

Heavy Jak
215-pound Jak with Mom (2010)

Carrying extra weight made many normal things harder. Extended sitting in office chairs caused me more back pain; it was additional effort to climb stairs or go hiking with the kids. Even standing became uncomfortable after a short period of time. I was more depressed, grumpier, and had a lot less energy. Plus I was self-conscious about my increasingly pear-shaped silhouette.

I had already tried dieting once. Atkins worked at first: I lost 20 pounds in three weeks or so, but it all returned when I shifted into the “maintenance” part of the diet. And as the pounds came back so did the depression. I gave up dieting and resigned myself to being overweight.

First Alarm: Hitting Snooze

Then in 2010, during a routine annual physical, my doctor informed me that my blood sugar levels indicated that I was “pre-diabetic”: I had not yet developed full-blown adult onset diabetes, but I was well above the normal healthy range. He told me I needed to lose some weight, exercise, and avoid foods with a high glycemic index.

Type II Diabetes is a serious condition, one that needs constant attention. I learned that complications can include heart disease, nerve damage, eye degeneration, kidney damage, osteoporosis, and more. I began to get a little … concerned.
Continue reading “The More Bearable Lightness of Being”

My Norwescon 35 Schedule

As I do every year, I will be attending Norwescon in SeaTac. This year, I’ll be at the convention on April 6th and 7th. If you’re in the Seattle area, come to the con, find me, and say hello.

Friday, April 6

11am — From Synopsis to Novel
A novel synopsis isn’t just a marketing tool. Find out how to use a synopsis to develop your story before you start writing.
Mary Rosenblum (M), Jak Koke, Irene Radford

2pm — Jak Koke Reading
My story “Love’s Light Wings” shows how we live and love in a collapsed future with near immortality and forced off-planet teleportation.
Note: the con program states that I will be reading from my forthcoming novel, Blood Sisters. However, that novel hasn’t been written yet.
Continue reading “My Norwescon 35 Schedule”

Remembering Mom

Quality Time

One year ago today, my mother died after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She had dodged breast cancer bullets a couple of times … well, not really dodged so much as taken them in the chest. But this time the bullet was a shotgun shell to her abdomen full of twelve gauge tumor pellets. Her doctors performed surgery, but with so many tiny tumors the odds of getting all the cancer weren’t good.

After surgery, the chemotherapy made Mom’s life a waking nightmare of nausea and weakness and pain. This was her fourth round of chemo, and since it wasn’t working all that well — not buying her much time — she made the conscious choice to stop treatment.


We all knew that this decision meant her time was short, but we hoped that her quality of life would be higher during what remained. And she did have a few relatively ‘normal’ months before the deterioration overtook her.

I was not prepared for how heartbreaking it would be to see the shell of someone who had once been so vibrant and full of energy. But even so, I am grateful that I and the kids got the chance to see her several times at the end of her life, and to say goodbye.

Most healthy young people conceive of life as being constant until it ends abruptly. And sometimes it does, but sometimes a life withers away, and the older I get, the more I start thinking of how long I’ll be healthy enough to do the things I love.

I’ve started thinking of life in terms of quality time left, of how long I can stave off attrition. How long will I be able to play soccer? How many more times will I be able to go hiking with my kids? When will I lose my mental sharpness and become unable to write?

How much is three months of quality life worth? Or one month, or even a week?

I fully believe that Mom made the right decision. One year of vomiting isn’t better than three months of peace, but damn do I wish she’d had better choices.

Being Brave

Back in March of last year, Karawynn and the girls and I traveled to Yachats on the Oregon coast for Mom’s memorial service and the interment of her ashes. Even now, nearly a year later, I find it difficult to write about. I haven’t lost many people close to me, and I’m not sure I coped very well. But then again, does anyone?

Continue reading “Remembering Mom”

Per Aspera Press Reboot

There’s an old joke among publishers. Question: “How do you make a small fortune in publishing?” Answer: “Start with a large fortune.”

We didn’t have a large fortune when we launched Per Aspera back in 2003. We started with time and determination, but not much else. We funded our lives and our nascent press on credit cards and the belief that what we were doing was worthwhile. We wanted to publish books that were overlooked by traditional publishing for one reason or another, and prove that they could succeed both artistically and commercially.

We also maintained hope that one of our books would break out and float the whole operation.

By any objective analysis of our business back then, we failed. After releasing two books as print-on-demand trade paperbacks, we placed a huge bet by launching a line of cloth-bound editions, first with Singularity by Bill DeSmedt and later Steel Sky by Andrew C. Murphy. These were beautiful books with gorgeous interior design and great covers.

They sold well, but not well enough, and we had to close down. We laid off staff (some of whom were already working for free) and went into a state of torpor. That was in 2008.

Why Reboot?

Even though our books did not make enough to keep the business running, we did end up with some degree of creative and professional success. Singularity in particular was so well-received that I now believe all the effort and debt was worth publishing that one book. Several big-name hard SF writers gave it glowing blurbs. The novel garnered several awards, a number of ‘best-of’ mentions, and a whole slew of favorable reviews.

It’s still somewhat of a mystery why no larger publishers decided to buy Singularity. Thousands of mediocre books are published every year, and hundreds of good books are published that are not as good as Singularity and Steel Sky. They are published because enough of them sell. For the most part, publishing is a business and not an exercise in artistic integrity.

My intention when we shut down was always for the company to restart at some point when things were less busy and more financially stable. Karawynn and I were able to pay off the business debt a while ago, but the economy has been less than ideal and it’s emotionally hard to step back into a situation that has burned us in the past. No matter how much we loved doing it.
Continue reading “Per Aspera Press Reboot”

Ghosts of Christmas

In 2011, we made a conscious decision to have a frugal Christmas. This resulted in some unexpected benefits, and also unearthed some deep-seated emotions.

Christmas past

When I was growing up, Christmas was a big deal. It was an exciting and happy time for my siblings and myself. As a kid, I loved seeing the tree on Christmas morning with all the wrapped presents reflecting the tree lights. I liked making guesses about who they were for and what might be inside. I liked opening presents, and would be lying if I didn’t confess to being hyped about getting something awesome.

Christmas 2002 - Piles of Presents!
Christmas 2002: Piles of presents!

Our family exchanged gifts on a large scale — presents were both expensive and numerous. I’m not really sure why; our family wasn’t that well-off. My dad was a graduate student, then a post-doctoral researcher, then a rookie college professor. My mom had to work various service jobs to help support the family of five. We were lower-middle-class, I’d say.

My parents spent a lot of money, a lot of time, and a huge amount of effort on the celebration of Christmas. There was a fair amount of socializing (parties and dropping in on friends, or having them over), we went to midnight Mass, and had a big meal on Christmas day. But the main focus was on opening presents on Christmas morning. Continue reading “Ghosts of Christmas”