My Story

On Schooner Eastwind in Boothbay Harbor, Maine      For most of my 51 years, my brain has been a battleground where I’ve traded victories and losses with myself. With a family history of depression, the fight hasn’t always seemed fair, but the scars have made me a stronger person. On another front, I’d like to say that my severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is in retreat, but most days it has me on the run—an exhausting slog through enemy territory.
     Although the cause of OCD is unknown, research hints at why I have it: genetic tendencies (there are many obsessive-compulsive blossoms on my family tree) ripened into a full-blown disorder when at the age of 12 I was struck with a Group A streptococcal infection, and suffered slight head trauma six months later while riding my bicycle.
     Isn’t it amazing that any child makes it to adulthood? Thank your parents; everything isn’t your mother’s fault.
     Of course, being concerned with things that most other persons don’t consider important—the proper uses of “persons” and “people,” for example—makes me an odd bird. I’d like to say that being and feeling different doesn’t bother me, but I would be lying.
     Nevertheless, I do care about those things, and attending to even the tiniest detail and choosing the right word are what make me an accomplished technical Spanish translator and an admittedly slow yet crafty writer with a clear, simple style. I write true-to-life fiction, mostly because my OCD has given me a fertile imagination and the inclination to tinker with a single word (sometimes for an hour) until I’m satisfied.
     It may seem odd to a non-obsessive-compulsive that a person who feels compelled to check things to the point of helpless nonsense, to perform routines repeatedly, etc., has a fertile imagination. For me, the creativity is actually one of the rare benefits of having OCD—a necessary reaction by the healthy part of my faulty brain to all the intrusive thoughts.
     My first novel, The Precariousness of Done, which was released in paperback on February 15, 2019 (Hooray!), delves into the narrow, complicated space where obsessive-compulsive disorder dances with true love. I welcome your feedback on the novel, mental illness, the challenge of getting published, etc., and am always open to my readers by email at the addresses on the Contact page.
     I was born in Kettering, Ohio, and moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, when I was 12. I guess I’m a Midwestener and a Southerner, but I have maintained my “mainstream” American accent and dialect, if there is such a thing. I took to Spanish during my freshman year in high school, and as a junior was one of 60 chosen to attend the Governor’s Spanish Academy. After graduation, I studied in Las Rozas, Spain, for a year, and was hired by a marketing communications firm as a translator during my sophomore year in college. My parents divorced soon after, but I got married and moved to Danville, Virginia. We are now a family of three, and I am self employed.
     Owning a house and living in what we called “the wasteland of Virginia” had taken a toll, and we relocated to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2016. My wife is an early childhood special education teacher with Stafford County Public Schools. It’s her 27th year as a Virginia teacher; ADHD has its benefits, too. In 2017, our son received his Applied Jewelry Professional (AJP) Credential from GIA, and he is now a Registered Gemologist Appraiser (RGA) and a Member of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA). Four years ago, we adopted a pound puppy named Brady.
     Our extended family is no more or less crazy than everyone else’s. My parents are retired and aging; Mom’s a lonely mess, Dad’s a stubborn, überpragmatist. My brother’s a millennial…enough said. And my married in-laws are each an only child—oy vey!—with challenging personalities.
     Of course, I’m challenging, too, but the one thing that has always come easy to me is the Spanish language. I find it hard to believe that it’s been rolling off my tongue for thirty years. I stay in constant contact with Spanish friends, and visit them whenever I get the chance. Travel to such places as Alaska, the Carolinas, the Midwest, the Northeast, the Smokies, and of course Spain continues to be an essential component of my son’s real-life education.
     Let me take this opportunity to dispel two common yet mistaken beliefs about Spaniards: they don’t eat tacos—tacos are a Mexican food, and in Spain taco means “cussword”—and they aren’t all bullfighters. Okay, one of my friends is, or at least he was when I met him in 1993. José Luis Ruiz Azañedo “Finito de Las Rozas” is mostly retired now.
     (Yes, I have run with the bulls, many times and without real incident. And yes, I believe that the Spanish addiction to tradition has blinded most Spaniards to the cruelty of the bullfight, a blood sport that should have gone the way of the dodo long ago.)
     So let me conclude this attempt to condense my story into a manageable page by answering the question you may have had from the very beginning: What are unsalted gems?
     For the kids and the kids at heart, most family-friendly gem mines sell bags or buckets of native dirt that has been enriched—salted—with gemstones. I’m a dig-your-own kind of gem miner, but whether you prefer salted or unsalted dirt, you’re in for clean, dirty fun.
     Sit down at the flume, dump some dirt into your screen, dunk the screen in the water, and watch your treasures reveal themselves as the mud washes away. Unless you’ve bought an enriched bag or bucket, rocks will far outnumber the rubies or whatever you’re mining for, and the stones that are suitable for cutting will be even fewer. Count on becoming filthy, not rich.
     But I have pulled a few unsalted gems out of the dirt in my day, and I hope that you find my posts, books, and short stories to be many “small but valuable pieces sifted out of an obsessive-compulsive mind.” I also hope that you will share your experiences with me, whether they’re related to OCD, crazy families, the language and culture of Spain, or the other matters this site touches on. I look forward to your helping me grow as a blogger and author.

Tony Houck

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