Invisible Staircases part 2: The revenge!

Invisible Staircases part 2: The Revenge!

By Michael J. Pennington: Disabled Author.

You may not notice, but I changed my byline. I love my byline it’s a good byline. Michael J. Pennington. It sounds good, rolls off the tongue, but I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I’ve decided its not enough.

I have lots of stuff wrong with me. I have a number of sleep disorders, I got some sciatica in my legs, I’ve been described as morbidly obese, and I’ve tested in the diabetic range. But when I say, “Disabled Writer,” I’m referring to only one thing. An unspecified learning disability I’ve lived with since childhood.

You see I grew up in the ’80s and in the ’80s, they weren’t so big on diagnosing the problem. The just shaped the ol “special Ed” label on you and sent you to special education classes. Where they thought you how to run a cash register and how to count change to prepare you for your future career as a fast food employee.

So I don’t even know the name of my disability. I think it’s dyslexia, but I’m not sure. I can tell you I mix up letters and numbers, but it’s much more than that. I pronounce silent letters, that is to say, if I see them I say them. I know not to say them if we I can say “salmon” just fine but if I’m reading out loud it’s going to be sal-mon” guaranteed. The weirdest thing I’ve experienced was a word breaking. Words just break for me. What that means is ill completely forget how a word is spelled. Simple words I’ve known forever. And it’s not that I forget how to spell them its that I’m mentally blocked from knowing. So if the word cat blocked for me I couldn’t think of the letters c a t, maybe k a t, ch a t, but not c a t. It’s infuriating.

For years I didn’t talk about my learning disability. I don’t like not being able to do something. I don’t like making excuses. I don’t like giving up. In short, I’m one stubborn bastard, and like too many I saw my disability as a weakness.

Spelling and grammar have always been a struggle for me, but in eighth grade, I did something remarkable. I taught myself math. Everyone assumed because I was “Special ed, ” that it meant I was stupid and in many cases, it meant I was lazy.

See my struggle in math was because I didn’t understand it. What they were busy teaching me repetition and procedure, and I had been taught so many procedures I was confused as what to do. They taught me the ‘what,’ but nobody taught me the ‘why.’ So one day I decide to figure it out. Starting with number one and then every concept after that. (I’m still doing it.)

Soon I couldn’t fail a math class and my parents pushed to get me in mainstream classes. I graduated high school an average student, but I graduated.

Like anyone with a disability. I’ve had challenges. Before computer applications, I couldn’t get a job unless someone filled out my applications. Computers were a great thing for me but I couldn’t get a computer job because of my spelling. I could write four thousand words in a single day but I was able to pass a typing exam.

I’ve spent my working career lifting heavy things because that was the work I could get. The exception to this was when I got my job working security. Which wasn’t really a brain-intensive job.

I told myself it didn’t matter. I had a dream and I was going to pursue it no matter what. See shortly after high school I got me an idea. I’d write a book, sell it and be rich. So I did, but a crazy thing happened when I did. I loved it! So much so I decided this was going to be my life’s ambition. To be a published author.

So I started writing my books and I started taking classes at a local public college. I’d save up and pay out of pocket, I wasn’t thinking of a degree, I just wanted the knowledge. Now I did okay there, my creative writing teacher loved me, and there was one algebra class in particular where my teacher took an interest in me. He saw my potential as a mathematician and pushed me hard. I left his class with a ‘B’ but I knew I had earned it.

Soon I found myself tempted by a private school who was offering a multimedia degree, and I thought that might be useful to me in my persist as a writer, but I quickly switched over to a degree in animation.

I’m going to take an aside here to give you a little insight into the kind of person you are dealing with. My first animation class was 3d modeling. This was just a basic class to teach us the workings of the animation program we were using. On the second day of class, I get an idea and I match into the classroom storyboard in hand and I tell my teacher I want to do this for my final project. We had only made one thing in the class and that was a couch. And he was like “are you sure?”

And I was like “yes!”

And he was like “okay.”

So every day after that I sat at my computer with two windows. One was the lesson, and the other was my final. I completed my final and ended the class with a big fat ‘A,’ In fact, I was riding high on a 4.0-grade average. Me the little special ed boy 4.0 in college I was so proud. That was me if I set my mind to it I went after it with everything I had.

But this created a dilemma, remember that B? I didn’t transfer my credits because it would ruin my GPA, but those English courses were coming and I knew they were going to be hard for me, but I wanted that 4.0 I was determined.

Well, the English 101 class came and I put myself through hell for that course. I would proofread and proofread and proofread. I stared at those words for hours. I stared at them till my eyes hurt and my head was pounding. Commanding myself, willing myself to see to just see the mistakes I knew were there.

Every time my papers came back there was a sea of red ink. I’d make the connection and still more red. It was heartbreaking it was soul-crushing. I never told anyone this but I hated myself for not being able to ace that class. I walked away with a C for my efforts, and I’m quite certain it was pity that got me that. My 4.0 washed down the drain gone forever.

I know what you’re thinking why didn’t you ask for help Mike? I did. I told the school about my disability I told my teacher I asked if there were any resources. Nope. My friends offered to help and friends are great, but at the end of the day being a proofreader for me is a full-time job, and friends they have their own lives. You feel bad constantly asking them to read stuff for you.

Not to mention the comments. The well-meaning, but hurtful stuff they say. Like “have you ever taken a basic English class?” or “have you proofread this?” or even “do you proofread?” I don’t tell them I won’t show any of my work unless I’ve proofread it at least five times.

There was a brief time I was considering a job teaching English in Japan. I decided it wasn’t going to get me closer to my goal. But the words of one friend stuck with me. “Mike, ” they said “you can’t even write basic English! How are you going to teach it?”

All the while there is this sense that you aren’t trying hard enough that you don’t care. That you want others to do it for you. Whether it’s really there or not its what you feel.

Moreover, I just don’t want to ask for help every goddam time I want to write. It’s annoying, it’s like asking permission. Please daddy, can I write something today?

What I’m saying is that just expecting someone with a learning disability to just get help from their friends is unrealistic.

You might think all this stuff would put me off writing, but no, I still love it and I want you to know I’m quite happy for what I achieved.

I have been writing for twenty years. I have written six books in my spare time and published two! I have written ten thousand words in a single night and all while being a husband and a father and living my life.

I clawed my way to the plate picked up the bat and took a swing. I failed spectacularly! Yes, I did, but I took my shot and that’s all I really wanted.

If I were alone I’d be quite content to drift off into obscurity to write my books that nobody buys and publish my blog that nobody reads.

There is one thing that bugs me. Did I fail because I suck or did I fail because of my disability? I don’t mind sucking if at the end of the day I suck, oh well but if people just dismiss me because of my spelling… That makes me angry.

See I’m not alone and my experiences are far from unique. Publishers have no guidelines for disabled writers. I can find no resources for adults with disability and it pisses me off. We have to do better.

There was a story about Einstein, perhaps you heard it? How he struggled at math when he was young. Of course, any two-bit history buff will tell you it’s not true.

That story was a great inspiration to me growing up, and it saddens me it’s not true, but it does make me wonder could I be that story?

Me the special ed kid who never got better than a c in English class a best. selling author? That would be a story.

So maybe I shouldn’t accept my fate quite so easily. Maybe there is a little girl out there who’s being told she can’t be an astronaut because she has dyslexia, maybe there’s a boy out there being told not to think about being president because he has autism.

Even my daughter who has ADD and has struggled in school because of it.

Maybe they need me to keep fighting.

So I’ve decided t stop hiding my disability, and put it in peoples face.

I’m going to fight for disabled access to the publishing community.

I’m going to fight for disabled access in our schools because I didn’t fail those classes, those classes failed me.

I am Michael J. Pennington: Disabled Author and I’m dammed proud of that fact.

Re: Flux

Re: Flux

By Michael J Pennington.

You are sleeping, maybe you are dreaming maybe you are just in blackness. Either way, your attention gets drawn to something a burning sensation you can’t ignore. You don’t know what it is but its there and it quickly becomes the only thing you can think about. What is it? You know what it is but you can’t quite place it like a name on the tip of your tongue. A painful name.

Then you realize. You’re choking. You sit up in bed coughing and sputtering as your air pipes try to clear away the hot vomit that was seeping into them. Now, conscious you are fully aware of what’s happening. Your throat is on fire your eyes are watering and your nose has become a font of mucus. Every gasp of air burns as you do your best to get out of the room quietly as possible.

You stumble through the house like some kind of mutant thing as you try to appease the first thought: relief. You make it to the kitchen and grab yourself a glass. It’s better now being upright has made the acid go back down. You can breathe a little better but you are still in agony. Most of the acid is gone but you can still feel some clinging to your esophagus burning its way through the walls. You turn on the hot water and let it run. You fumble through the cabinets for the one thing that can stop this. That is the one thing you have. Backing soda. Its simple science backing soda is a base and it will neutralize the acid.

You pore a bit into the cup, just enough to cover the bottom. You test water still cold. You can’t wait for you want relief now. The bathroom heats up faster, or maybe that’s just your perception, but you go there anyway. Its got to be hot water, you don’t know why but it only works if it’s hot. Once the water is good and hot you fill it and swirl around to mix in the baking soda. Then you quickly down the bitter liquid, as its heat coats your throat you finally feel relief, the fire goes out. It still burns, but it’s like a wound a dull burning it’ll go away soon.

Is this good for you? Is it bad for you? You don’t know, but it’s cheap and effective. You clean yourself up and sit down for a bit, it’ll be a bit before your stomach settles enough to going back to sleep. You belch a lot, a side effect of combining an acid and a base is a lot of excess gas. You watch an episode of your favorite show to pass the time. It’s all you can do. Part of you is grateful everyone is asleep, you would hate if they saw you like this. You have the medicine of course and it works, for the most part, this is mild compared to the acid reflux attacks you use to have, but there are those rare incidents where you are reminded of just how bad, bad can be.

Overtime is a lie!

Time makes liars of us all. Whether it be a broken promise, a prediction that didn’t come true, or by repeating a fact that later turned out untrue. We’ve all been there we started out with the best of intentions but time weaved its mysterious magic and here we are, our breath taste of falsehood and our pants are smoking.

This is the story of overtime, a rosy-cheeked child led astray by a wicked world.

It started out innocently enough. The forty-hour work week was instituted. If the company wanted its employees to work more it had to fairly compensate them.

Let’s for the purposes of demonstration think of ourselves as two people. As a wage employee and an overtime employee.

The wage employee would work 40 hours a week and his compensation would afford them the necessities plus a small surplus discretionary income.

The overtime employee was a go-getter who was working for an opportunity. A big purchase, saving money, a business venture. They weren’t just surviving, they were living.

Fast forward almost a hundred years. Overtime has become an institution and like all institutions its a tool for the wealthy to exploit the poor.

The creation of overtime was brilliant. Genius if I may say so, but there was one thing the creators of overtime could not foresee. Inflation!

Inflation is a poorly understood phenomenon like a black hole we see its effects but not what causes it or what drives it.

Inflation is a mathematical necessity, not a constant because that implies it doesn’t change. It is in constant flux but its presence will always be there.

That is because money is tied to resources and resources have two values. Perceived value and actual value.

Perceived value is the devil we know from supply and demand. The less there is of a resource the more its worth.

The actual value is the opposite of perceived value. As a resource gets spent the less good it is at doing its job. The less oil we have the fewer cars can run. The actual value is in a state of decline %99.99r of the time. There are slight upticks of course and for those living in those upticks happy day. For the rest of us, we are living in a state if perpetual doom, but it’s a slow doom… So. Yay?

Anyway, inflation is derived from the difference in perceived value and actual value. I don’t have an equation yet because I lack practical data, but it’s there.

So we know the cause of inflation, but what drives it? While there are many factors, including wages, but I find the most dominant factor is the greed of the wealthy. Their desire for perceived value drives prices hire faster than anything.

Now it should be noted I’m not against the wealthy. (It should also be noted that while all wealthy possess some level of greed they are not all ”greedy.’) Their greed is a feature, and I’m speaking of it as more accumulative group greed than an individual trait. Simply put the wealthy are that way because they are very good at collecting and keeping money. Used properly this is a fantastic resource, but I digress.

Back from the aside. What does this have to do with pore innocent overtime? A lot actually. As inflation increases and wages stagnant every day a worker makes a little less money. If current estimations are correct that means almost every worker is getting played half of what they are worth. So when you double a half salary you only get a whole salary. This is the best case scenario most are only making three-quarters of what they are worth at the best of times.

Let’s look back at our two workers. Our wage worker isn’t doing so well. They are in dept and the bills are pilling up. The daily struggle of making ends meet is a losing battle.

The overtime worker is a drowning wretch clinging to a piece of flotsam. They no longer elect to work overtime they do it to survive.

This is because of wage workers aren’t being paid what they are worth for the forty hours they work, and overtime workers are only working part-time most of the time. And nobody is making the extra money that overtime promises.

This is how companies use overtime to keep the workforce small and the compensation low. They have a stock of full-time, underpaid workers, and a stock of part-time fully compensated workers. The fact that they are the same people doesn’t matter to the company. It never pays full price for labor.

This is not to say I’m against overtime if the wage disparity is corrected even moderately it starts to do its job again.

What can be done to fix it? Nothing. Or rather don’t change what you are already doing. It should be sufficient.

The theoretical answer is, of course, break up monopolies to keep inflation low and keep baseline wages in step with inflation. These aren’t liberal solutions they are common sense economics.

It is as I said if you believe in the solution you are already working towards it. If not you are working against it. The math will out. (Common sense will win in the long run, for a time at least.)

My Dream.

Ever since I caught the writing ‘bug’ I’ve been happily plugging along working on my stories and books. It makes me happy plain and simple.

But what’s it all about? What’s the big idea? What do I really want this to be? It’s been something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

I’ve had lots of goals in my life. I created my e-mail address when the net was new and the possibilities of getting your name as your e-mail were slim. You had to come up with something clever to get an unused dress.

Mine was mjp6btw: Michael J. Pennington 6 Books to Write.

Those books were as follows.

The Books of Life Trilogy: The Book of Endings, Lost Souls, The Great Begging.

The Helicopter Tree.

Breaking a Terrible Promise. (originally The Keeper of His Secrets. My story)

Vampire Apocalypse.

I still have two books to write on that list. “Lost Souls” and “The Great Beginning.” Of the others, Only one is on the retail market. “Breaking A Terrible Promise.” The others aren’t in a publishable state. I have two different copies of “The Book of Endings” in my case I keep my tablet in. “The Helicopter Tree” and “Vampire Apocalypse” are lost to the ages on long forgotten hard drives.

Goals are great, but that’s not why I write. I write because it is an incredibly fun and emotionally rewarding hobby, and while fun is a great reason to do anything, it’s not a dream.

So what? Fame? Money? These things don’t excite me, actually I’m happier when I think about being broke and forgotten. 🙂 I’m completely free to write whatever I want right now, that is an incredible feeling. Money and fame were means to an end if I made money from writing I could spend more time writing. But in order to do that, I have to spend a lot of my time self promoting. No thank you.

So I’ve been searching my soul, trying to figure out what would please me, something to aspire too. A reason to keep writing. (Beyond the fact that it is amazing.)

Holding a copy of my first published book was amazing. I wish I had enough money to by myself a copy of my second. I want to write and publish as many books as I can. They don’t have to sell, the world has changed I don’t have to impress snooty publishers anymore.

I want nothing less than a shelf full of my books. Sure it’s a masturbatory ambition steeped in narcissism, but yeah. I can get behind that.

That’s my dream. A little silly I know, but who the hell demanded dreams be practical?

Interview with an A.I.

Thought I would dig up a little something from my archives. Enjoy.

Interview with an A.I.

Proxima Centauri Gateway.


Captain Harris flipped through the large report. It was filled with technical specifications and numbers of all sorts. lots of data on artificial intelligence tests. High scores on all of them. Dee Harris didn’t care about any of it. She just knew his ship was launching in a week and it needed an AI.

She entered the room, there was the usual proud parent programmer. The one who felt they had the secrets to intellectual self-awareness in a bottle. This one was a woman.  Harris met her eyes’. They were cold and steely. Powder blue, she was wearing her game face, but she was nervous. Good. The truly talented are always just a little bit scared when presenting their work.

In the center of the room sat a holographic array.  A big machine that protected three-dimensional images onto a force field. The image projected was of a young girl. Harris glanced at the report, looking for the AI’s name. She found it: Cognitive Learning Omni-Intelligent Entity. C.L.O.I.E There was always a clever anagram. “Cloie?” Asked Harris.

Cloie’s face looked unsure. There was a protocol to this: First address the parent programmer, then the AI. Harris liked to throw them off. Cloie recovered, “Yes, Cognitive Learn…”

“Don’t say the acronym.” Interjected Harris. “You live in the military long enough you grow to hate them. Besides your name is basically smart-smart-smart-smart-thing.” Harris glanced at the programmer, the programmer’s face filled with indignation of having the name she made mocked. It was clear the woman was about to speak, but Harris held up her finger and mouthed the word “test.”  She turned back to Cloie, who looked upset. Harris continued. “You know you can only say something is smart so many times before it starts to sound dumb. I like Cloie better.”

Cloie thought about it for a moment… “I think I like it better too. Mom makes me say the acronym.”

Harris was satisfied with the answer. She turned her attention to the parent programmer. “You must be the mom.” She said extending her hand.

“Dr. Venkman.” The woman replied as she shook hands with Captain Harris.

“Seriously?” Asked Harris.

“Is there something wrong with my name Captain? Or is this another test? Asked Dr. Venkman. She obviously wasn’t a fan of 20th-century cinema. Not many people were.

“Sorry.” Replied Harris.

“So what kind of test is this; what do you learn by insulting my creation!?” The Dr. Demanded.

“I didn’t insult your creation, I insulted Cloie. To answer your question, I wanted to see if she was thin-skinned.” Said Harris nonchalantly. “I’m a blunt person and I don’t like having to apologize to the AI to get my coffee in the morning. All my crew must pass that test.”

“That’s your biggest concern?!” Cried, Dr. Venkman.

It was then Harris chose to act. It had to be unexpected to work.  Dr. Venkman was about two steps away. She was a little taller than Harris, but that was no problem.  Harris took a step in and grabbed Venkman’s arm. She was going to twist it behind the programmer, but the good doctor resisted the move and grabbed Harris’ wrist with her other hand.  Civilian training, it would seem. Perhaps a challenge for regular soldiers; but Harris had black-ops’ training.

Venkman was resisting force with force. So Harris stopped pulling on her arm and began to push. This doubled the force against the Doctor. This unbalanced the doctor and she attempted to regain balance by sliding her foot back.  Harris took advantage of this by sweeping the foot as it moved. As Venkman’s foot was now swept out from under her she fell backward. As she fell Harris released her grip and twisted her arm free of Dr. Venkman’s. She took a step away from Venkman and drew her gun on the doctor. Harris original plan was to hold Venkman from behind for dramatic effect, but it was not tactically sound. Given the doctor’s resistance, it was a better idea to keep some distance between them.

Venkman tried to stand but the sight of the gun made her stop.

“What’s going on?” Asked Cloie in shock.

“Computer!” Said Harris, “Execute Harris program three: authorization Kilo-Oscar-Mike!”

The computer replied: “Authorization accepted eliminating the hostile program in thirty seconds.”

Harris looked at Cloie. “You have two choices: Disconnect your core from our server, but if you do I will kill mommy. Or wait till the computer terminates your software.”

“Cloie! You need to leave!” Insisted Dr. Venkman.

“Twenty Seconds.” Said the computer.

“No!” Said Cloie. “This must be a test.”

“No test!” Said Harris. “AI’s are not fit to remain on a starship! This will prove it!”

The computer began counting down. “Ten-nine-eight…”

Cloie vanished her projected form was gone.

“Well.” Said Harris her attention on Venkman. “We have our answer…”

The computer was furnishing the countdown. “three-two… Countdown terminated.”

“What!?” Asked Harris. This was not part of the program. Cloie reappeared next to her. Before the captain could react the projected light image placed a single finger on her.  Harris was hit by a strong electrical shock which knocked her off her feet.

Harris landed on the floor. Her gun not far away. She went to get it but Cloie knelt down. Holding her hands near Harris, the crackle of electricity could be heard. “I wouldn’t.” Said Cloie. “Early holographic arrays’ would often build a static charge. This problem was eliminated by fluctuating the magnetic field at high speeds. I shut that down.” She smiled at Harris. “So Mr. Spock, did I pass?”

“What did you call me?” Asked Harris.

“I’m a fan of twentieth-century entertainment too,” Cloie said. “This is the Kobayashi Maru am I right?”

Harris looked a little embarrassed. “Yes. My first attempt anyway. And you pull a ‘Captain Kirk’ on me.”

“This was a test?!” Said Dr. Venkman indigent. “Of course it was! I’m done. Let me out of here!”

“It will be just a moment mother,” said Cloie. “I triggered the lockdown alarm.”

Harris stood up. “You did what?!”

“I had too. There wasn’t time to hack the training computer systems, but all simulations are terminated in the case of a lockdown.” Said Cloie.

“There are over three thousand people now trapped in their classrooms right now…”  Said Harris.

Cloie looked embarrassed. “There was a small possibility I could have been wrong…” She frowned. “I couldn’t take that chance.”

Harris was impressed, and that wasn’t easy.

“Are you done beating my creation?” Asked Dr. Venkman. “I want out!”

“Do you recall the Jupiter incident?” Asked Harris.

“I remember hearing something about it,” said Venkman.

“I was in command a group of terrorist managed to get aboard  and took hostages in our main hanger.” Harris continued. “Our AI’s name was Paul. The negotiations were going south, I told Paul to remove seventy percent of the oxygen from the room. It went against Paul’s program to do anything that might injure people. I told him that if he didn’t those people would die. He had a breakdown. We tried a manual override but it took too much time. The leader blew the airlock and spaced every one.” Harris looked at Venkman. “Think of me what you will, but I expect every member of my crew to keep their cool in a difficult situation. When they offered me the deep space missions, I insisted on picking the AI.”

“That your excuse for this treatment,” said Dr. Venkman. “I’m not impressed…”

“There is no precedent for running physiological profiles on AI’s. So I thought the Kobayashi Maru, would work,” said  Harris.

“Explain all you like,” said Dr. Venkman. “I’m not going to accept your apology.”

The door finally opened. Guards rushed in. Everyone knew the drill. Wait for them to sweep the room, then you can move. One of them addressed Harris. “Captain, what happened?”

“I underestimated my test subject,” said Harris. “I won’t let it happen again.”

“Damn straight!” Said Venkman turning to leave.

“Venkman!” Called Harris. Dr. Venkman Stopped. Harris continued. “I want her.”

The parent programmer faced Harris one more time. “Not a chance!” said Dr. Venkman.

“Read the contract,” said Harris. “Should we decide on your AI, you are obligated to turn it over.”

Venkman did not reply. She turned to make a loud grunting sound and left.

“Your mother doesn’t like me very much,” said Harris to Cloie.

“She won’t let you have me without a fight,” said Cloie.

“It’s not her choice to make. It’s yours,” said Harris. “I’m tough, I’m difficult to work with, and I only expect the best from my crew, but if you want it the job is yours. I’ll be awaiting your answer.” Haris turned to leave.

“Wait!” said Cloie. “You talk directly to me. You test me like you would anyone on your crew. You give me a choice. You talk to me like I was a person. Why?”

“You are a person,” Said Harris.

“Yes,” said Cloie. “I would very much like to join your crew.”

“I’ll make arrangements.” Said Harris and she walked out of the chamber sure in the fact that her ship’s A.I. would make a fine crew member.