60K in the ‘Twenty-Five at the Lip’ Sequel

For some years, I’ve been asked by numerous readers about a possible sequel to Twenty-Five at the Lip, and I’ve always begged off the question. I wasn’t sure that my original piece was good enough to even warrant its own publication – never mind a sequel.

13227073_1006365702751601_6130828040284320008_nIt was during my interview with G from The EMS Lounge that I sort of had to answer the question about a sequel. I had developed some ideas about what a sequel might look like, and I was a bit shocked to admit to myself that I wasn’t entirely sure that the plot would hold water. The worst thing that an author (or director) can do is make a sub-par sophomore effort. We all think we’re making The Godfather, Part II, but really we’re making The Lost World.

I did my best to tie up all the loose ends I could in the original. While I downgraded Ashley Barnes as a major character, I gave her a novel all of her own in Just Say Maybe. In Bright Lights and Cold Steel, I gave some of the backgrounds of Richard Henry, John Davis, and Frank Macomber. But it was while I was writing Bright Lights that I realized I missed writing EMS stuff. Like, a lot.

Characters like Calvin, Valerie, Carley, and Jeremy are actually challenging to write. There was lots of groundwork to lay for them, and they evolved immensely over the course of seven years. Especially Carley. Let me tell you, she underwent the biggest changes. They were all by most precious creations, and the last thing I wanted to do was give them a bad reappearance.lotfk

Over NaNoWriMo 2016 I decided to throw down the first 50K words of a Twenty-Five at the Lip sequel, called Last of the White Knights. I messaged my friend Alyssa and asked if she wouldn’t mind being a model for Valerie the way that Lisa was for Snuffy. Yes, Valerie is in the sequel; no other spoilers, though.

What I’m finding in writing the Twenty-Five sequel is that it’s coming along very much the same way that the original did. The original was actually written totally out of order. The only thing I actually made sure I did was to write that last chapter last. Everything else was written with the plot entirely in my head when I wanted to write them. In truth, Twenty-Five at the Lip was essentially written as a bunch of short stories, which is appropriate considering how it is somewhat auto-biographical.

img_0011Last of the White Knights is a bit lighter than Twenty-Five at the Lip was. This might be the result of a story that is heavily Carley based, as opposed to the original which focused on Calvin, Jeremy, and Valerie existing in rather desperate straights. Carley is having some difficulties, but not the sort that the big three dealt with in the original. It’s also got plenty of Carly-isms which also help to lighten the storyline and allow her to navigate her problems as only she can. Set two years after the events in Twenty-Five at the Lip we get to see into Carley’s father’s family, as well as Jeremy’s, and what’s gone on with Valerie since we last left her.

Twenty-Five at the Lip had about 123K words and the way it looks now Last of the White Knights will also have that. I don’t think I should write less, and there is plenty of material in my head now to make a story that rivals the original. I just hope the fanbase likes it.


 

You can get the books I’ve mentioned above on my Amazon site, both in paperback and on Kindle. Click my handsome face below to be redirected. Oh, and like my author page on Facebook too, please.

 

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In the Tune of Mike Rowe

 

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Stolen borrowed from Mike Rowe’s Facebook page.

Had Mike Rowe been my guidance counselor in high school I might not have wasted the better part of a decade chasing a degree I don’t have. I might not have been saddled with over thirty thousand dollars in debt, which is a pittance compared to what lots of people in the Millenial Generation are looking at. I’m actually one of the lucky ones; I have a career job, a pension, a union, and an endless workload.

It seems to never fail that at least once a week somebody writes a nasty-gram to this blue collar working class hero regarding his stance on some topic. They promptly flounce away from his fandom, swearing to never turn a favorable eye in his direction again. Unlike many celebrity types (I hope he doesn’t mind me referring to him as a celebrity) he likes to offer a reply, laden with a Twain-like wit that sometimes borders on delightful Churchill sarcasm.

 

To me, this shows not only a quick, critically thinking mind but a profound amount of class. In a recent grumble-gram from a newly defrocked Rowe fan, Mike was able to explain his reasoning for attending a shooting event in Las Vegas this week called the SHOT SHOW. It’s a seminar put on by Navy SEALs that shows novices how to safely handle and utilize firearms in such a way that they become comfortable with them.

 

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The message from his Facebook page

 

Mike went on at some length, imparting his usual sage wisdom, which was both equanimous and humorous, but also incredibly humble. He finishes his even-toned response to a strongly worded letter with,

Obviously, you and I have a difference of opinion regarding the role of the second amendment in modern society. But thanks to the first amendment, we can express our differences in whatever way we prefer. We can criticize those with whom we disagree, or we can try to persuade them. We can make a case as to why we believe what we believe, or we can simply announce our disappointment to the world, as though our feelings alone are enough to justify our beliefs.

As for you Marla – you can either stomp off in a cloud of righteous indignation, or you can accompany me to the SHOT Show as my guest, and see what all the fuss is about.

Either way, it’s nice to have choices, don’t you think?

Best,
Mike

You can read all of it on his Facebook page here.

Working for a county EMS system in Florida allows for a special sort of job stability. Six months out of the year it’s home to Northerners and Canadians, as well as our friends South of the border who come up for work on farms and other labor-driven job fields. Personally, I have my own opinions on the legality of the migrant workforce, but I also like the price of strawberries where it is so I keep my mouth shut. I also don’t see that many Americans clamoring for the sort of labor-intensive agricultural jobs these men and women do and until that happens I suppose that is wise. Regardless, everyone bleeds red, they all feel pain and suffering and whether it’s a Quebecois, a seasonal or transplanted New Yorker, or a migrant worker from Juarez – if they pick up the phone and call I’m going to be there for them. I’ve picked up quite a bit of Spanish, but my French is, how you say, épouvantable.

I think about the way my career life has gone, and it seems as though I was always headed here. Starting out I had wanted to be a teacher. Later I realized I hated teaching, so it was good that I got out before I found that out the hard way. I wish I could say I learned this from school-aged children, but these were adults so take that as you will. I did learn a lot of things in college, such as how to write and do research (I might have some non-fiction pieces coming forth in the coming years) and I think that helps to build a well-rounded person. After all, there’s lots of fake news out there, and it’s good if you know how to cut through the baloney and find out what really is going on.

Mike Rowe has always said that there is nothing wrong with having a college degree. What he laments is that there aren’t jobs for college graduates waiting for them when they take off that cap and gown and put on the heavy yoke of debt with no way to resolve it. What his primary interest now is calling attention to, and closing, the skills gap that is crippling the American job market, and the economy. As it’s been said recently If you want to live in a country that makes things, you have to buy things your country makes. 

81tavaulinl__sl1500_I myself grew up in a manufacturing household, both my parents and step-parents were products of Texas Instruments, and I suppose you could say so am I. I had a Speak and Spell because my parents knew that it was good for them to invest back into their company. That investment worked out well for me too because it helped me grow into a literate adult. Unfortunately, the plant my parents worked at in Attleboro Massachusetts closed, the jobs there being sent to Mexico for cheaper labor. Fortunately, a new company came in and set up shop, and my father was able to retain employment there. My mom went on to nursing school, which later helped direct me to a related medical field, and my step-father works for perhaps the best example of the Florida Lifestyle; he works for Tervis Tumbler.

My parents all work for places that make things, and those things are made in America. If they aren’t making things, they are making things bearable for those who are suffering. There is no shortage of medical jobs in Florida, and all of us regardless of our political affiliation should recognize that manufacturing jobs belong in America. Job skills are at an all-time low, and if you take a gander at the current course load of the average high school student, you’ll find a remarkable lack of hands-on job training and shop classes. All the stuff I didn’t learn to do in high school I now have to ask my dad, step-dad, or grandfather how to do. If that fails, I hit up YouTube.

Seriously, you can learn just about anything on YouTube.

But like so many fine skills that were standard in our school systems before, kids are growing up and staying kids. Nobody knows how to take apart an engine anymore (I can just about change my oil), how to build a bookcase (Maybe, out of a box from Walmart), or fix a toilet (I’ve had some limited success with this one). Perhaps some of the greatest life skills I’ve learned was from an old fire buddy of mine when he took me on one summer and let me help him cut grass and do various landscaping jobs he had going. Garrett is one of the hardest working people I know, and there isn’t much he doesn’t seem to know how to do. If you’re in the Southeastern Massachusetts area, you should check out his work which he proudly displays on his Facebook page. The number is on the page too. Because of what he taught me I am confident I will have the best-looking yard in my neighborhood.

Mike Rowe’s trademark professional credit was Dirty Jobs a show that aired on Discovery. He would step up and help out professional skilled tradespeople in their daily tasks, doing the jobs that you or I think we couldn’t do. I get the occasional comment “I couldn’t be a paramedic” from time to time. It’s followed by “I don’t know how you do it.” It’s really not that hard “once you get past the smell” as Mike would often say on his show. If anything I’m living proof that you too can be a medic (check out my piece on being an INFJ medic).

 

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Yup #CaddyShackWisdom

These jobs, including mine, are some of the best jobs in the world. The best part about them is that they are seemingly always looking for people to fill them. So before you send your kids to college so they can learn how to be offended by everything they encounter, try encouraging them into a career where they can do something to strengthen our workforce and our domestic production capability. Made in America used to mean something, and it’s my hope that this generation can turn it around and make it mean something again.

 

So as a final thought, make Mike Rowe’s podcast part of your normal routine. If he can’t convince you to take apart your kitchen sink, he’ll at least charm the heck out of you with his old-soul-style wisdom. Also, if you’re the sort of person with deep pockets, or just a regular Joe or Jane who happens to believe in advancing the domestic workforce, consider donating to the Mike Rowe Works Foundation. Here’s the basic rundown, procured straight from the horse’s mouth:

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity that rewards people with a passion to get trained for skilled jobs that actually exist. As CEO of the Foundation, Mike Rowe spends a significant amount of time speaking about the country’s dysfunctional relationship with work, highlighting the widening skills gap, and challenging the persistent belief that a four-year degree is automatically the best path for the most people.


 

James Windale is the author of a bunch of books about EMS, some circus stuff, equality, and even some zombie stuff. If you like that stuff (and who doesn’t?) you can get his stuff wicked cheap on Amazon. Just click his handsome mug below. Also, he’d love it if you followed his Facebook page… please?

 

Masonry in a Nutshell

tumblr_m77xo4hhal1r9ww4go1_1280The other day I came across a (presumably) Christian advert or editorial describing how basically everybody is going to be damned to Hellfire and brimstone for all eternity. One of the things that really did it for me was on that list was my fraternity as I am a Freemason. We all may be Hell-bound, but at least we’ll be in good company.

Last night I decided that I’d get myself a few extra scoring marks with Satan’s pitchfork and opted to visit a local Masonic lodge. I’ve been a Mason for six years and haven’t attended a meeting since I moved to Florida a year and a half ago. Visiting lodges is very much the point of Masonry, and the idea is that you visit and you more or less build relationships with people you might not otherwise have known. It’s a fraternity based on shared beliefs and ethics. That sort of “like-minded” thing so that anywhere you go you have a friend.

I come from a long line of Masonic influence. My great-grandfather was a Mason, my grandfather was too and raised me to the third degree when I went through. My mom was also a member of Rainbow which is like Masonic girl scouts.

I sort of forgot how cool it was to be involved in this group. I walked in the door, showed my dues card, and ate dinner with people I’d never met, carrying on a lively conversation before the meeting started. This was their first meeting of the year, and they had just installed a whole new group of officers into the lodge. I’m not giving away any secrets here, but the heads of the lodge (for lack of a better term) is the Worshipful Master, followed by the Senior Warden, and then the Junior Warden.

15976948_10211431940263880_8278804463432308363_nWhen dinner was over, we went into the lodge and went about process of opening it. It was at this point that it really hit me just how important and omnistic this fraternity is. The Master of the lodge was Muslim. The Senior Warden was a retired police officer, and the Junior Steward was Cuban. The secretary was a long-winded Southern cracker who had no issues busting the chops of any and all members and had his own commentary about the minutes being read which was rather comical. There was an American flag on a pole to the far left (where it’s supposed to be because no other flag can come before it), followed by the flag of the State of Florida, followed by the Confederate national flag, and finally the Canadian flag.

My new secretary friend was duly impressed that I recognized the Confederate national flag and lamented that “Lots of Rebel types love to display the Confederate battle flag, but you’re a Yankee and you know more about their heritage than they do.” Suffice it to say I’ve been welcomed back anytime.


It was such a cool experience to sit in a lodge that was that diverse, under circumstances that most people can’t comprehend. I once had a religion professor, who was also an Episcopalian minister, who told us that he’d been part of a task force that was set about trying to come up with an idea to get Jews, Christians, and Muslims to be able to worship in one ceremony. He made it sound like it was this great ground-breaking thing, but my fraternity has been doing this for three hundred years. It hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s established on the idea that everyone is equal and has value. It’s such a simple concept, but the results are that a Muslim is leading a Masonic lodge founded by Confederates, in a Southern state, in a nation with a severe case of Islamophobia. (An interesting side note: the only things that the Civil War did not destroy was Masonry. There are LOADS of stories about how Union and Confederate Masons treated one another as if they weren’t enemies).

yikm8jrrtThese guys don’t see any of that stuff as being relevant. The only thing that matters is that they are all Masons, and that makes them brothers. They share a common belief in the value of ideas, faith, and humanity. Anything else, to them, is superfluous.


James Windale is the author of several novels, all of which are available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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James Windale’s Facebook Page

 

Raising Children in Divorce and 50/50 Equality

I came across an article written last May by Daily Mail columnist Lauren Libbert dealing with the issues women face when they have to share a 50/50 custody arrangement with their children’s father. She asserts that for decades women have enjoyed the ability to claim a primary custody situation with their former parenting partners, allowing for visitations on weekends or when it’s convenient. In her opening, she waxes philosophically about what it means to be the maternal nurturer:

Every mother lives for those small, joyful moments when her child masters something new – a book once too challenging, the telling of a joke previously stumbled over, a food devoured that had formerly been rejected.

For it’s in the gentle minutiae of a little one’s life that you really see their budding personality grow.

Imagine, then, the agonising pain of being privy to your child’s life for only half the time. The milestones missed. The lost cuddles before bedtime. The long nights spent wondering if they are sleeping sweetly or crying out for Mummy.

Not being familiar with this writer, and as an American also not familiar with The Daily Mail, I was left feeling as though I was waiting for the punchline. She goes on to chronicle the situations of several women who are co-parenting with their former spouses (insert former lovers as well for the modern world we live in) all of them lamenting the problems they face in separation from their children while they spend time with their fathers. Lauren goes on in great detail discussing the mental anguish, anxiety, and sense of separation that a mother feels when she is “forced,” either via court order or mutual agreement, to share a 50/50 custody arrangement with the father of their children.

I find it astonishing that Miss Libbert sat at her computer and wrote in great detail the stories of these women and it apparently it never dawned on her that this is precisely what fathers have had to suffer through for the last two or three generations. Divorce and co-parenting is now a multi-generational issue seeing the children of divorced parents becoming parents themselves and then discovering the joys of divorce and arguing over who gets to see their kids, when and where.

Do yo15727233_593755857482878_1919949350624190792_nur best to ignore the stats for combat deaths, homicide victims, industrial death/accidents, and suicides, and take a look at the winners of custody in the “Male Privilege” chart by Bastiat Insitute. We can see that women overwhelmingly become the primary caregivers of children. I don’t think we need a diagram to understand this, though. Think back to your childhood friends who had divorced parents, or divorced adults you know who have children. Where did/do children overwhelmingly reside? With the mother, while the father gets access to his children.

Think about that phrase for a moment; “access.” Having “access to your child” makes it sound as though you’re a criminal, a spousal abuser, or someone who shouldn’t have unfettered “access” to your kids.

If the solution to something is not equal to all persons, it is not equality. Something being 50/50 is, by definition, equal. But maybe we’re looking at this article, and the situation overall, in the wrong light. When it comes to parenting, children need a mother and father. Please don’t take that as an indictment of same-sex couples because that’s not what I’m getting at; what I would like people to take away from that is individuals who co-parent usually have different styles of parenting.  Often times that means one is a nurturer while the other is a disciplinarian. In the current era, we are favoring the nurturer over the disciplinarian, and this might be part of the problem we have with Millenials and their attitude of guaranteed success. Everyone gets a trophy but doesn’t have to earn it.

We look at the term “disciplinarian” to mean “you’re in trouble” or “just wait till your father gets home.” That’s not the extent of it, though, is it? Fathers are often considered the disciplinarian, and somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that men do not need their children as much as their mothers do. We pretend that men aren’t as devastated as women are when they have to hand over their children to their ex-partner because men don’t traditionally show emotion the way women do. We infer that because men don’t show this emotion that it doesn’t exist, or worse, that they simply don’t care.

Disciplinarians teach us skills and how to become good at something. After all, becoming good at something takes discipline. It takes patience, know-how, and skills that the parent in the role of nurturer may not have. The alternate result is we end up with kids chasing $80,000 degrees for jobs that don’t exist. Meanwhile, they could have spent an equal amount of time with the disciplinarian in their life teaching them plumbing, how an engine works, learning carpentry, or other life skills that can turn into careers that pay much more than that degree in eleventh-century English poetry.

50/50 parenting helps to mold children into the best people they can be. In literally everything, you come second to your child. Your wants, needs, and desires do not compare to that of your child’s. You are their protector and their guide and any issues or disagreements with their other parent are of no consequence to them. You should not be vying for their approval, winning their love, turning them against their fathers, or worse using them as leverage against them. Your children should be completely in the dark about what caused your separation, and in all things, you should be a united front with your ex on all matters pertaining to the raising of your child. Likewise, your new partners should be in a supporting role that does not deviate or seek to undermine the primary parents.

If you have trouble finding common ground with your ex on what sort of child you should be raising, think back to what drew you to their father or mother in the first place. If you didn’t know the person well enough to begin with, say a short-term relationship or a one night stand, find something you like about that person and encourage your child to adopt that trait or traits. Yes, that means you have to try to find something agreeable to you in a person you might find despicable. That’s work on your part, but it goes a tremendous way in showing your child that while you’re not with their father or mother anymore that you approve of them and even care about them on a platonic level. That sort of thing matters to kids. I’ll say that again for those in the back – THAT SORT OF THING MATTERS TO KIDS. This will also help maintain that united front that helps mold a successful, non-entitled member of society. Isn’t that what liberals and conservatives are both arguing is the problem with today’s kids? Aren’t privilege and entitlement the same thing?

Men are fathers as much as women are mothers. There cannot and should not be favoritism in child custody situations unless it is demonstrated that one parent is unfit to be in the child’s life. Mothers are no more entitled to access to their children than their fathers are, and if we come to that conclusion by way of gender-based reasoning, then we’ve truly come full circle. Simply put, if your argument that you should be the primary custodial parent is because you carried them for nine months I have to question if you understand how biology works (not to mention this puts divorced gay couples in a peculiar situation). We did not design the way our body systems work or decide which sex would carry children until they are born. That was, and is, out of our hands. In this sense nature, God, or whomever you chose to designate as a higher being has established equality for us. Nature has assured equality in all things. It took humanity to believe that we were better than the original construct of that design. We’ve spent so much time trying to get back to a natural sense of equality that we’ve warped what equality actually is.

What we do control is how we parent and the way we raise our children.  This goal should be nothing less than encouraging them to be the best parts of ourselves and what we loved about their other parent. That is how you raise stable, successful, adult children of divorce.


James Windale is the author of several novels and short stories. His works are available in paperback and on Kindle through Amazon. Click the image below to be redirected to his Amazon site.

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James Windale on Facebook

 

The Miracle Worker

Today I learned that the world lost a great man. This was a man who exemplified what it was to be a teacher. He expected a great deal from his students, but he always gave so much more in return. Those of us he knew personally he pushed to greater heights, knowing what we were capable of. Some of us were led into careers in the performing arts, while others chose a different path. What we all shared though was a love for a man who gave so much of himself to the students and the craft of theater.

I first met Tom Marcello in 1994 when I auditioned for the part of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Despite my high hopes, I didn’t get the part, but he found a use for me in the chorus along with a group of kids. It was a small part, but the small parts make the whole complete, and he made us all feel important while holding us to the same standards that he held the leads to.

I’d often heard him referred to as The Miracle Worker. The first production he produced as the director of what would become my high school was called just that: The Miracle Worker. Over the years he would become a miracle worker for hundreds, even thousands of kids who came through the doors of the Joseph Case High School auditorium. When things looked bleak because of financial constraints, money appeared as if out of nowhere. This was a man who had touched so many lives that alumni donated time, money, and energy so that the kids that came after them could have the same experience they did. The theater competition banners that line the walls of the auditorium are a testament to his many great works and sacrifices.

Banners only show so much though, because you had to see him as he was. He carried a towel with him to rehearsals because before too long he was sweating as if he was running an aerobics class. His dedication allowed him to keep pace with the youngest and fittest people that he lead, and they hung on his every word. Mr. Marcello’s personality had him rushing about, from the stage to wardrobe to props to the crew, and if you took the time to say his full name to get this excited man’s attention he might miss you. We shortened it to so that we could get his attention and get out what we needed to say. At least that’s the story I heard, and like any mythic giant there are lots of versions to the epic saga such as this man was.

By the time I got to high school I had known M from a number of productions I had been involved with. I had the benefit of an surrogate older sister and a longtime friend of M’s that helped me find out about auditions for shows he was doing, or the productions of people he knew. He needed a younger person for a part in his own authored production of We Will Remember , a production about the Holocaust, and so I went out for it. It was interesting to be kid from the jr. high having a part in the high school production, and it opened a number of doors for me. M’s multiple connections had information about productions at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, the Rhode Island School of Design, auditions in Boston in the theater district, and even a movie audition. Just having his name on my theater resume next to my head shot was enough to get consideration, but it also came with a great deal of expectation because anyone who worked with Tom Marcello was expected to do great things. And thanks to his guidance we did.

But none of this was ever about him. It was always about us. The sacrifices he made on our behalf were only ever closely duplicated by Brian McCann, his assistant and one of my English teachers who would later become vice-principal and principal of the high school. He worked himself into such a fervor on a daily basis and it was all for our benefit. In class he told us that after a stressful day he’d take a stroll through Toys R Us and push buttons on display models. It soothed his mind and I think in many ways it reminded him that what he was doing was for us; all his many kids.

I strayed from theater a long time ago when I realized that not every director was Tom Marcello. I was quickly burnt out working under a different director with a different style and my life took a different course very quickly. I’ve missed the theater, but given the schedule of a paramedic it’s hard to make the time. I turned to writing when I was 25 for the creative outlet I was so desperately craving and it’s done the trick. But the influence of Tom Marcello isn’t something that just fades away when he leaves your everyday life. He’s the kind of man you carry with you everywhere you go and you know that he carries you as well.

I know many people in the coming days who will be reflecting, shedding tears, and telling amazing stories about a man we all knew and loved. While I won’t be able to attend any memorials or services, I will be there in spirit. It’s a sad thing that we sometimes only think of the people who’ve touched our lives when they’re no longer with us. Remembering people like Mr. Marcello allows us to recall why they were important to us in the first place. This in turn will help us to better ourselves so that we can share a little bit of his light with those who don’t have an M in their lives. Continuing your influence through others long after you’ve gone – that’s a miracle worker.


 

Here’s a site that catalogues some pictures from various productions run by the Joesph Case High School Theater Company

The INFJ Medic

EMS is an unlikely profession for someone like me. I hate chaos and loud noises and they make me downright uncomfortable. Worse, I really don’t care for the company of the real hardcore Type-A personalities that permeate EMS; the vestiges of the police and fire types that we tend to spill over in to move on to. I’ve often said the EMS is like the Air Force of emergency services and the Marines are the cops and the firefighters are the Army. Sorry if you chose a different service for yourself in real life, but this is my analogy and as an INFJ and an author I am REALLY good at making analogies.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Meyers-Briggs personality type (you can find out your own by Googling the MBTI exam and taking it yourself) I’m a breed that is the rarest of the rarest Pokemon people. Only 1% of men and 3% of women fall into this category and I myself had no idea I was one of them until a few months ago my wife gave me the test to take. I tested out as an INFJ, but because I’m in EMS the psychology end of medicine didn’t do much for me. Once I started reading up on it though I was blown away by the fact that I was reading what might have been my biography written by someone who I had never met. They seemed to know so much about me, some things I didn’t even realize for myself.

In a nutshell INFJs are often:

  • private
  • sensitive
  • quiet leaders
  • great depth of personality – intricately and deeply woven, mysterious, and highly complex, sometimes puzzling even themselves
  • introverted
  • abstract in communicating
  • live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities – part of an unusually rich inner life
  • abstract in communicating
  • artistic (and natural affinity for art), creative, and easily inspired
  • very independent
  • orderly view towards the world but within themselves arranged in a chaotic, complex way only they could understand

(Thanks INFJ.org)

And here I thought I was just a weird kid. It turns out that the idiot I had as a third grade teacher was wrong. I didn’t have a learning disability. What made matters worse in that situation though was that someone made the mistake of telling my family that I was incredibly intelligent, to which any parent might be thrilled to hear. Unfortunately that didn’t mean I was a good student, after all if you judge a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree it’ll go through life thinking it’s stupid. Soooo, as you can see I’m not a doctor or a lawyer and there are no degrees taking the place of wall paper in my home.

People like me aren’t cut from the same tree as many of you are. In fact there have been some INFJs who actually believe they aren’t human. I don’t think this of myself, though I can sympathize with that feeling (and it’s great plot fodder so…)

My best friend in medic school once declared that he and I were “kind of competing” in class. I don’t know where he got this from, but I hate competition. I hate it. I detested gym class, not because of the physical elements of it – that was fine. I just hate competing because in the end it’s utterly meaningless. Clin-Con? I can’t imagine a worse example of EMS ego than that. I hate the EMS alpha-dog ego to begin with, so why would this be something I’d even consider doing. Why? It’s competition based on practices used in saving lives. That’s absurd in my mind.

But here’s the thing, ok? The point of this entire blog entry is to point out how different my way of thinking is and always has been. It’s a story of how difficult it was for me to cement myself into a field that was not built or designed for someone like me; someone who thinks like me, acts like me, or goes through life like me.

IMG_2067Ultimately it’s the back story to how Twenty-Five at the Lip was written.

I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. Now being an HSP doesn’t mean emotionally sensitive especially, but rather that outside influences have strong effects on me. Something heavy dropped on the floor of the ambulance bay is going to make me jump, and even shout at someone, but more likely to myself. The Nextel is another element of this. It’s an unpleasant noise, not because it means I have a call, but because it’s an OBNOXIOUS sound and I am sure if there is any justice in the universe the creator of that little jingle has a special place reserved in Hell for them. The thing is that sudden loud noises put me into that sympathetic fight or flight response and it takes someone like me longer to come down from that than the average person. People who worked opposite shifts from me used to hate that I changed the ringtone on the Nextel to something quieter and more humane for my own benefit. After reading a couple of numerous blogs and books like The INFJ Handbook by Marissa Baker I had this light go on in my head. For someone like me, that kind of thing is COMPLETELY NORMAL.

Now of course if you’re not an INFJ, or any of the introverted types, or even aware of this sort of thing you’re going to think I’m really strange, and that’s cool. As a medic I’ve had some interesting experiences with partners who weren’t sure how to work with me. Some people even avoided picking up my shifts because they thought that my quirks leant to some sort of para-god core. The funny thing about this is that INFJs are both born leaders and detest leading at the same time. People look to us for guidance and leadership and while we often give it reluctantly we hate having attention put on ourselves. For me in EMS that translates to “quiet codes” where one person speaks at a time and nobody yells. It also means saying “Thank you” a lot, and using terms like “we” and “us” when things go good and “I” when they don’t. That is taking responsibility and spreading credit, not the other way around.

Regardless these traits also come with some peculiar behaviors and ways of looking at the world. I’ve always been like this. When I was four I was assessed at the recommendation of my preschool because of bizarre, sometimes adult, behaviors that some might have pegged as me being an “old soul.” So my parents carted me over to a psychologist who asked me some pretty rudimentary questions that any four-year-old might be able to answer.

“Jimmy,” they asked me. “What do you do with bread?”

Now any other kid, and normally thinking person, is going to tell you ‘Make a sandwich,’ right? My answer was,

“You make bread pudding.” This was a reasonable answer for me because my grandmother makes – literally – the best bread pudding you’ve ever had and it was my favorite. That was the only logical answer that my four-year-old mind could come up with.

“What lives in the water?” they asked me. Now surely my answer was ‘fish’, right? How could it not be?

“The Loch Ness Monster.”

See the thing about this is that the answers I came up with weren’t wrong. They just weren’t the typical answers you’d expect. This is why I detest the National Registry exams…

One of the really cool things about the INFJ personality is that we are capable of coming up with creative solutions to sometimes difficult problems, though sometimes they might seen cumbersome or odd. In our mind if the job gets done then it is done right. Unfortunately this doesn’t always translate well in EMS and it makes us look strange or incredibly awkward bringing about unwanted consequences.

This one day at MedTech an EMT approached my friend Angie and lamented “I wish I hadn’t picked up the medic shift.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I’m with Windale…”

Now this might have resonated some sort of empathetic response from someone who hadn’t worked with me, but Angie came to his, and my, rescue. She came to me and actually told me he was nervous about working with me. This made me really upset because I knew I had something of a reputation as being that weird guy in the company, but also being really smart and capable. Some people saw it as a double edged sword. “He’s new,” she said. That was all I needed to hear.

INFJs are often natural counselors or teachers (we’re also writers – ta-daa) and so with this in mind I decided to make my approach to this guy in the way that I’d always wished someone had instructed me when I was new. The entire day before I had to put myself in a mindset of how I was going to relate to this person because ultimately I was the more experienced provider on the truck. Within ten minutes of just sitting on the truck and talking with me he realized that I wasn’t the intense guy he’d perceived me to be. He also started reading Twenty-Five at the Lip.

Just for shits and giggles though, I told Angie that I had him so upset that he was curled up in the fetal position on the floor of the ambulance crying and mumbling “He’s from Hell… he’s from Hell.”

This other time someone asked another partner of mine, Jeremy, how he managed to work with me for 16 hours a day. His reply was that I’m simply “particular,” not hard to work with. Most find that I’m fun to work with because we are doing stuff with patients as opposed to BLS driving everywhere.

Calvin 1When I started running calls with new people they actually found it to be like what they expected EMS to be in the first place. Too much time at your average private EMS company can make us complacent and not really that interested in providing the level of care that’s necessary. Just going from nursing home to the hospital for abnormal labs isn’t all that exciting until you start to realize what ‘abnormal labs’ can actually mean. For instance, an elevated troponin is also considered ‘abnormal’ and rightfully so. I ended up with people vying for my shifts because I actually did stuff, not just in the truck but at bedside, setting up IVs, oxygen, monitors, 12-leads, even meds. I let them play, which is something that some medics don’t like to do.

It wasn’t till I started working with a basic partner or a cardiac that I truly found myself in charge, and not under the Type-A eye of another paramedic, that I succeeded. Ironically enough, it was because I was thrown to the wolves and allowed to practice the way I knew which was based on the unique experiences I’d had. I got to be ME as a medic, not someone else’s concept of a medic.

I had a supervisor at a Fall River (Borden City in Twenty-Five at the Lip) based company in the North End who had failed medic school two or three times and had to settle for being a cardiac so that he could become a supervisor. Apparently this company promoted people based not on merit, but your practical ability – that is if they thought you might kill someone you got promoted so that they took you out of the standard lineup. But I digress…

He took some exception to the way I practiced, which was sort of humorous in it’s own right considering his own background. I explained to him that I spent a great deal of time in the ER and my way of approaching patient care was very much influenced by the example set at those institutions. Remember the Loch Ness Monster? I practice a sort of osteopathic approach to EMS, look at everything and treat what’s wrong. To clarify: just because the nursing home called for a rash on your patient’s leg, doesn’t mean you ignore the fact that he’s in congestive heart failure and they didn’t pick up on that. Another way of looking at this is to call it shotgun medicine; pull the trigger and see what you hit.

I think deep down this guy was somewhat threatened by me, which explains the Homeric odyssey that he sent me on, jumping from base to base all over Southern New England. I finally landed at a base in New Bedford (Taberport) with a new supervisor that I’d worked with at another EMS company based out of Dartmouth Massachusetts some years earlier. In the words of my great-aunt Ruby he was a ‘bitch bastard’, just as I’d remembered him being. Before I knew it I was leaving that company, though not overly upset about it given the circumstances. I still had a nicely padded resume and a laundry list of references to call upon. It wasn’t hard for me to find another job, and a better one at that.

There’s a joke writers collectively understand. “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” Ron West, John Prince, and Bobby Carrerio are very thinly veiled people in Twenty-Five at the Lip. Writers have the ability to immortalize people and as sensitive and sentimental people we love to do this. Always be kind to writers because there’s a good chance you’ll end up immortalized somehow. You can be a Valerie LeClaire or you can be a Ron West. Your choice.

Let me bring this back around, because my INFJness is really going strong here. A lot of us are really quiet, and that’s a testament to our introverted nature. People like me are also known for having extroverted moments that are marked by needs for deep, intellectual conversations complimented by almost manic behaviors. For me one of two things is going to happen:

1) I’m going to use up all my fuel and just roll to a stop and crash, or

2) Someone is going to say something about me being weird or stupid because they don’t understand this part of my personality and I’m going to shut down, build an impenetrable wall, and immediately revert back to the safety of my introverted nature.

It’s like being a turtle; a turtle will let you see it for what it is and there is an incredible amount of things a turtle can teach you, if and only if, you’re willing to figure out their nature and language. The thing about turtles is that if you push the turtle, poke it, or try to hurt it somehow it’ll turn into its shell and that’s it.

People who don’t even know about this MBTI thing (myself included until just recently) will discover an INFJ and be completely drawn to them. Many INFJs have experiences where strangers will gravitate to them and just start talking to them. This has happened to me a few times myself, and I’ve also had some amazing luck getting ‘difficult’ patients to calm down and let us work with them.

Then there are things that really irritate us. Something that’s always bothered me is when I’m writing something down and I get interrupted. If I lose my train of thought it’s like I’m losing my sense of direction. The bridge has been hit and Sulu doesn’t know where the heck we are. Meanwhile I’m about to go into fits of Shatner. As it turns out this is pretty typical and I felt bad about it not realizing this was a perfectly natural response to someone with HS, compounded by the God-awful sound of the Nextel or someone talking over me while I’m giving a med report. There’s nothing worse than my report being interrupted by some absurd question that I was getting to if they had just let me. I missed the radio so much because I could talk, say everything I needed to, and then answer questions as necessary.

If you’re confused by any of this I’ll try and make it clearer:

Have you ever tried to hold to a conversation at a concert? I’m not talking a small coffee house with a shitty band playing Radiohead covers. I’m talking The Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium. Or how about the floor of the New York Stock Exchange? Those are really loud places. Why would anyone do that, you might ask. When I get interrupted in the middle of talking about something, I ask the same question because my brain, at all times, is like an air traffic control tower. There are millions of pieces of information flying around and I’m trying to keep track of the important stuff pertaining to the STEMI I just brought you. If you interrupt me to ask about their lung sounds I’m going to get screwed up and lose my place in the story I’m reading out loud to you. I’m getting to it. If there was something urgent about the lung sounds you’d have heard it by now.

Now the average medic is probably going to explode having read this. There’s a procedure after all, isn’t there? Of course there is. There’s the “right way” to do something and then there’s the “other right way” to do it. We go on so much about not being cook book medics that we unknowingly end up being cookie-cutter medics. Is it really any better?

The thing about being an INFJ in EMS is that the Type-As who are so drawn to, and make up most of the EMS population, set the standards for what it is “to be” in EMS. I’m not talking about the docs who write your protocols, because I will guarantee that 99% of them will get us every.single.time.

What I’m talking about is the macho, Rambo-style, know it all who is an expert at everything and can rattle off paragraphs and figures from their EMT or medic text books. That’s a great talent and I’m glad you have it, but if you’re the type of FTO who tells a new, scared shitless medic or EMT that they have no business being in EMS because they can’t spew out the contraindications for Procainamide off the cuff… then this is me telling you to eat shit. If you have zero tolerance for questions or mistakes then you have no business being an FTO. Take off that pin and give back the pay raise that comes with it. Go back and sit with the other cowboys in the dick-measuring corral.

It took me a very long time to get comfortable with my skills as an EMT and a Medic. Worse though, it took me longer to accept myself for the sort of EMT and Medic that I am. Being different in a field like this is tantamount to treason. You’re expected to fit into a very specific mold, for no reason other than the mentality that makes up EMS. Possibly the most ironic thing about EMS was summed up by one of my early preceptors when he said, “You’re nervous, and the bully in me is picking up on that.” Someone in a profession that is based on giving aid to the sick and injured has bullying tendencies? If I didn’t already know that based on my previous history I’d have been blown out of my boots by that statement. In my unconscious INFJ state, I shut down to him from there and fortunately was given another preceptor. In the end I’m still here. The reason for that it because I’m a survivor – a lot of INFJs are. For one reason or another people in their formative years have had to endure. The result of the endurance, sometimes, is an ability to see the world very differently than most of the population. To have the ability to come up with creative answers to difficult questions. And to fall into leadership positions, even though we don’t really want them.

How’s that for a mind fuck?

On the other end of all this is my own humanity. Despite the theories some INFJs have of themselves, I am at least partially human. That means I’m entitled to mistakes, and when it comes to being a preceptor myself I’ve certainly made them. Sometimes you pick up behaviors that you didn’t think you were capable of, just ask children of abuse or alcoholism. In moments of stress and high anxiety I’ve yelled at students and precepts. I’m not proud of it, but I’ll freely admit that it was wrong. That’s something else that I had to address to myself when I wrote Twenty-Five at the Lip. If you’re like me the last thing you want to do is hurt someone, and that goes doubly if you’re in EMS. Never forget why it is that we are here.

Lisa as SnuffyAs I bring you to the end of this psychological tour I’ll share with you something that my friend Lisa sent me. She was the model for Snuffy that you’ve seen a number of times and I could recall on several occasions EMTs venting to me about the conditions they worked under where the egos of their partner filled most of the front cab. She sent it to me saying that it reminded her of me, which was an incredibly humbling feeling. I can’t cite the author because there wasn’t one provided. It could easily be, and should be, anyone in a position of leadership in EMS. We INFJs don’t like being in leadership roles, but often end up there because of our insight and ability to lead, not ruthlessly manage.

That EMT over there is mine.

I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve walked through the shit they are walking through. I’ve put up with the shit you’re giving them. I’ve been them. They may one day stand where I stand.

That EMT has my back. That EMT does my CPR. That EMT starts my IVs. That EMT cares for my patients. That EMT is my partner.

Do not bark at my EMT. Do not ignore my EMT. Do not discourage my EMT. Most of all do not treat my EMT like they are less than us.

I say “my EMT” not because I am a medic and they are an EMT, but because that is my EMS sibling. I get to give them shit, because we spend 12+ hours a shift trying not to annoy each other and to get along. Because I trust them to have my back. Because they’ll never let me down. Because that EMT is my partner.

I need my EMT. You will respect them, or leave them alone.

-That EMT’s medic