Communion Of Dreams


Oh. My.
July 31, 2010, 9:13 am
Filed under: Art, Guns, Humor, movies, Violence, YouTube

I’d heard about this. But seeing it is . . . well . . .

No, really, I’m sober and everything.

Jim Downey

(Via TR.)



What it’s like.
July 28, 2010, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Book Conservation, Depression, Failure, Gardening, Health, Press, Publishing

I mentioned last week that I was somewhere in the downswing of my bipolar cycle. It’s sometimes hard to explain what that means. For those who haven’t ever experienced a true depression, here’s perhaps an insight into what it is like.

This morning I got a lot done. Errands ran, exercise in, seeing to a lot of annoying administrivia for my (soon-to-be-over) position as president of our Neighborhood Association. Then this afternoon a nice young woman reporter came by for a long interview for Vox Magazine – a profile piece they wanted to do about me as a book conservator. She was well prepared for the subject, asked a lot of solid questions, and gave me plenty of opportunity to brag on my profession. Then we got into some other personal things about me, and by the time she left I knew that she was quite impressed with all I have done, all that I have accomplished, and the successes which are currently in process.

She left, I got some conservation work done. Then I went out to the garden and harvested the first couple of ‘Lemon Boy’ tomatoes and green bell peppers – which I just chopped up and added to a nice tortellini salad waiting for dinner.

Sound good? Well, yeah, it should.

Know what I was thinking? That I had waited far too long to take care of the administrative tasks. About the client who called me during dinner last night to check on a conservation project which I didn’t even remember having been told to proceed on, and how I needed to scramble to get that done. And that the tomatoes and peppers are late, and an indication that this year’s harvest from the garden was going to be waaaaaaaaaaaaay down – perhaps only a quarter of what it usually is, and that was clearly due to some kind of ineptitude on my part.

This is not a major depression. I can function just fine. I am able to motivate myself to get things done. I can recognize my accomplishments.

But I take little joy or pride in anything I’m doing. I feel like I am constantly trying to paper over the cracks in my world, to hide the screw-ups I make lest someone figure out just how incompetent I am.

Don’t misunderstand this as a whine or a plea for “help”. I’ll be fine – I have been through this more than enough times to know the path out of the valley. I just thought I would share a little perspective on what it is like to be where I am.

Jim Downey



Sometimes, I learn.
July 26, 2010, 9:40 am
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Failure, Health

I can be . . . ah, stubborn. Yeah, let’s just call it stubborn. Not bull-headed, not thick, not dense, not stuck in my ways. Stubborn.

But sometimes I learn.

This weekend I wanted to spend some time getting yardwork done – stuff which had been neglected a bit, due to the recent class I was teaching and the high temps and heavy rains. Yesterday’s task was to chop up a bunch of larger brush bits, turning it into kindling and small logs for the firewood ric.

So I got out the chainsaw. And it wouldn’t start.

Now, mind, this saw is only a couple years old. And hadn’t seen a lot of use. But the last couple of times I tried to use it, I’ve run into problems with it.

I am very mechanically inclined, and usually have no problems tacking small repair job or other such tasks. Just Saturday I rehabbed the wheel bearings and did other minor maintenance on my chipper/shredder.

But me and chainsaws . . . well, we don’t get along. Just one of those weird things. Still, under most circumstances, I would go ahead and spend the time to take the saw apart, checking the various components to make sure that they’d work, then putting it back together. Eventually, I’d sort out the problem, get the thing working properly.

Except now I’m fighting a mild depression, as noted the other day. And if I couldn’t find anything wrong with the saw on the first pass, it’d really piss me off. And depress me further for getting pissed off and letting a simple mechanical thing get the better of me. That whole cycle would just spin until the whole day was ruined.

I looked at the chainsaw again. Then I put it back in its case, and stuck it in the garage. Then I went out and bought a new chainsaw.

Silly? Maybe. But as I told a friend in an email:

Well, this is one of the things that I have *finally* learned – that I don’t have to do the hard thing every single fucking time when fighting a depressive cycle – that it’s OK to take the easy way out sometimes.

The old chainsaw will still be the same, sitting in the garage, later. When I’m not struggling with my own personal demons I’ll get it out, fix it (or determine that it can’t be fixed for a reasonable amount) and then either find a new home for it or keep it as a spare.

The new chainsaw worked fine yesterday. I got a lot of work done with it. About to go out and finish up here in a bit. Even better, the same company who made the old one (I like their products generally) had since come out with a line of saws which have vibration control. At first I thought it was a gimmick, but when I started using it I found out that it works pretty well. And as a result, my hands do not have a fraction of the ache and pain they usually do when I’ve been using a saw a lot.

Yeah, sometimes, I learn.



Another reason.

I mentioned meeting Ben Bova at the Heinlein Centennial a couple years back, and how I was impressed by his grace and humanity in how he dealt with both me and Frederik Pohl.

And I just found out that I have another reason to respect him: his support for the Bill of Rights, and specifically for the 2nd Amendment. I’m not too surprised, given some of the things he has written, but to see him weigh in on this topic specifically is quite enjoyable.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)



Right on time.
July 24, 2010, 10:21 am
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Health, Predictions, Sleep, Survival

Gah. I hate to be right, sometimes.

In January 2009 I wrote this:

As usual, it’s only in hindsight that you recognize it.  The typical seasonal downturn is something more.  Oh, you’re aware of the symptoms.  The intense introspection.  Desire to sleep more.  Lower level of creativity.  Difficulty in finding the motivation to do anything.  Lack of enthusiasm for the usual things you enjoy.  Tendency to drink more, without getting the slightest buzz from it.  You’re aware of the symptoms, but until you’ve been dealing with them for a while they don’t all add up to something that you can see.

The ‘black dog‘.

And as noted previously, my bipolar condition tends to run on an 18-to-24 month cycle, though that can be effected by external factors.

Count months. Yeah.

Which explains why teaching my class the last two weeks was so hard, so draining, for all that it was also very enjoyable. Being a public person in the midst of a depressive slide is doable, it just takes an inordinate amount of energy.

Ah, well.

But the good news is that once I realize how deeply I am into this cycle, it usually means that I don’t have a whole lot further down to go. Typically, just a matter of weeks. Something to look forward to. And now that the class is done I can put my energy back into the other things which need my attention, and slowly build on the small accomplishments.

Walk. One foot in front of the other. It’s the only thing that helps.

Jim Downey



How many?
July 22, 2010, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Art, Bad Astronomy, Nuclear weapons, Phil Plait, Science

So, how many nuclear tests do you think there have been, since the Trinity test 65 years ago?

Go on, take a guess.

A few dozen?

A hundred?

A couple hundred?

Try over two thousand.

And via Phil Plait, here’s an absolutely stunning presentation of that number, as a video showing each individual test, by each individual nation, each one with a specific musical tone as it was done. Call it a music video of the nuclear age. It is really quite captivating.

And more than a little sobering.

Jim Downey



A debacle.
July 20, 2010, 6:29 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation

This is why I like to teach now and again. Because my students invariably school me.

This has been a great group of students: three high school students (one who just graduated) and a non-traditional (mid-20s, returning to school after solid work experience) college student who is assisting me in exchange for taking the class. All artists. All very smart, very talented in using their hands. They ask intelligent questions, are perfectly happy to redo small problems so that they correct their mistakes, and quickly grasp why we do the things we do. They have been excellent at following my instruction, understanding the models we have constructed, and creating some very nice books – with the result that we’ve gotten through more book structures than I ever have in such a class previously.

So, this morning, after finishing the last two examples I wanted them to do, I set forth the design criteria for them for their final independent books. We had an hour of class time, and I fully expected them to be able to think through the designs they wanted to construct, understand the structural issues which would be presented in trying to accomplish those designs, and tell me what they needed in terms of materials to translate those designs into completed books. Oh, sure, I expected that there would be problems that we would need to work through, but that was part of the whole lesson.

It was a debacle. A complete and total fiasco.

And this was the lesson for *me*: no matter how bright they are, no matter how good they are with the mechanical skills, no matter what their ability to understand design motif and execution . . . they just do not have the skills necessary to design, project, compensate, and complete a project given such a level of freedom (well, except for the assistant – he did exactly as I expected). I might as well have asked them to jump up on the roof of the art building.

Let me explain. People that age have many things. A fully-developed prefrontal cortex isn’t one of them. That usually doesn’t happen until the early 20s in most people, according to the best research available. They do not have the ability to completely understand all of their decisions and project their likely outcomes into the future (which explains a lot of late-teenage behavior.)

I hadn’t exactly forgotten this – I had been lured by their other skills into thinking that they were exempt. That’s akin to thinking that a 12 year old would understand what it was to be a parent because they were on the verge of puberty a little earlier than their peers.

So, once this eventually sunk into my own thick skull, I changed the plans for the class. I told them that tomorrow we’d go through and reconsider our initial designs, then construct a model out of practice materials which would allow us to work through any problems.

Sheesh – the things that it takes to teach me a lesson. Sometimes you’d think I was the one with the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.

Jim Downey




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