Communion Of Dreams

Matter of perspective.

This will probably come across as a little brag-y. Sorry about that. Not my intention.

The other day I got a phone call. For Legacy Art. The gallery we closed May 31, 2004. Yeah, more than ten years ago.

And after I got through abusing the telemarketer over this point, I got to thinking about the many changes in the last decade.

First thing I should say up front: I’m at a low point in my bipolar cycle, as I’ve noted recently. That means that my self-image isn’t all that great. This isn’t a debilitating depressive episode or anything — I’ve managed to continue to work steadily, as well as enjoy the usual aspects of life. So not horrid. But it is sometimes difficult to not focus on the things which haven’t gone well, and my own failings which are often a component of that. And one of those failings is a sense of not accomplishing much, of being lazy, of wasting my time and the time of others.

Anyway. I got to thinking about the changes in the last decade. And surprisingly, more positive things came to mind than negative ones. That fed on itself, and I found myself making a mental list of the accomplishments.

In no particular order or ranking: wrote two books (one of them as co-author). Most of the way done with another. Visited Wales. And Argentina. And New Zealand. And Italy. Wrote several thousand blog posts. Became something of an authority on small caliber ballistics. Wrote several hundred articles and columns for publication. Was the full-time caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. Have done conservation work on something more than a thousand (that’s just a guess … may be closer to two thousand) books and documents. Made some great hot sauces. Raised, loved, and then said farewell to a great dog. Tried to be a good friend, and husband. Tried to help others when I could.

We all fail. We all have things we’ve done that haunt us in one way or another. Sometimes, those fears and demons overwhelm. Me, at least.

I may or may not be at a turning point in my bipolar cycle. But I’m glad that at least I can think of things I have accomplished. That helps.

Back to work on St. Cybi’s Well.


Jim Downey

Tough call.

Interesting site/idea, though it would be a tough call to pick a book …


I’d be almost nervous to hear what someone might say about one of my books. But in spite of making solid progress with the writing of St Cybi’s Well, I seem to be at low ebb in terms of my self-confidence/bipolar cycle, so it might just be due to that.


Jim Downey

“A certain embarrassment.”

A good segment on this morning’s Weekend Edition Saturday with writer Marcel Theroux (son of Paul Theroux). I recommend the whole thing, but two particular bits stood out for me. The first is included on the ‘highlights’ page for the show:

I was trying to be as free as possible. I don’t really think about genre … to be honest. I find it constraining. And I know there’s a certain embarrassment about talking about science fiction in polite company, so some people prefer to call it “speculative fiction” instead.


And the second is my transcription from the actual interview (at about the 5:00 mark):

Anyone who has written a long work of fiction just knows that your mood goes up and down and at times it seems baffling and you feel that you should be doing something that is of value to the human race, not sitting on your own in a room churning out words. Or not churning out words.


Boy, howdy. I am happily churning out words at present, but sometimes it just feels so … self indulgent. And that doesn’t include the moments of complete panic that everyone will be disappointed in the prequel to Communion of Dreams because it isn’t science-fictiony enough or the writing isn’t any good or something.


Back to work.  It’s all I can do.


Jim Downey

Three things.

OK, actually more like four. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta.

You’ll see.

* * *

Interesting item on this morning’s Morning Edition, looking at a new book about how scarcity has a psychological impact which pushes people to make poor choices.  The transcript isn’t up yet, so here’s just one passage from the interview with co-author Sendhil Mullainathan:

When you have scarcity and it creates a scarcity mindset, it leads you to take certain behaviors which in the short term help you manage scarcity, but in the long term only make matters worse.

Specifically, it’s a coping strategy: by setting aside some long-term problem, you actually have more time to deal with urgent short-term problems. This is a very normal human reaction, and actually even makes evolutionary sense — not getting eaten today is more important than where that glacier up the mountain will be next year.

I still remember a poster my Resident Advisor had up on her wall in college, which distilled this problem nicely. It said (with appropriate humorous graphic): “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s easy to forget that you came here to drain the swamp.”

* * *

I’ve … struggled … with procrastination all my life. Sometimes more successfully than at other times. It can manifest as lethargy. Or writer’s block. Or simple distraction.

And I learned a long, long time ago that that struggle was made worse when I was confronted with other stressors in my life. A bad bipolar cycle. Financial stress.  Emotional stress. Simple lack of sufficient sleep. Just look back through my blog posts while we were doing care-giving for Martha Sr, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

So when I see someone come up with an interesting take on procrastination, I pay attention. Here’s a very good one:

In the monkey world, he’s got it all figured out—if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight—he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.

It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.*

The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.**

* * *

There was a great story yesterday afternoon on All Things Considered, about a little boy who was terrified by a statue of Frankenstein(‘s Monster). It was funny, charming, and insightful.

What insight? This one:

“Well, your nephew is a brilliant story editor,'” says psychologist Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia.

Wilson has been studying how small changes in a person’s own stories and memories can help with emotional health. He calls the process “story editing.” And he says that small tweaks in the interpretation of life events can reap huge benefits.

This process is essentially what happens during months, or years, of therapy. But Wilson has discovered ways you can change your story in only about 45 minutes.

* * *

There’s a second part to that item about procrastination I posted above (hence my ambivalence about whether this blog entry was about three things or four):

There’s only one way to truly beat procrastination:

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to show yourself you can do it, not tell yourself. Things will change when you show yourself that they can. Until then, you won’t believe it, and nothing will change. Think of yourself like a basketball player on a cold streak. For basketball players, it’s all about confidence, and an ice cold shooter can tell himself 1000 times, “I’m a great shooter, I’m going to hit this next one,” but it’s not until he physically hits a shot that his confidence goes up and his touch comes back. So how do you start hitting shots?

* * *

3) Aim for slow, steady progress—Storylines are rewritten one page at a time.In the same way a great achievement happens unglorious brick by unglorious brick, a deeply-engrained habit like procrastination doesn’t change all at once, it changes one modest improvement at a time. Remember, this is all about showing yourself you can do it, so the key isn’t to be perfect, but to simply improve. The author who writes one page a day has written a book after a year. The procrastinator who gets slightly better every week is a totally changed person a year later.So don’t think about going from A to Z—just start with A to B. Change the Storyline from “I procrastinate on every hard task I do” to “Once a week, I do a hard task without procrastinating.” If you can do that, you’ve started a trend. I’m still a wretched procrastinator, but I’m definitely better than I was last year, so I feel hopeful about the future.

* * *

Wait — I said three things? Or maybe four?

I suppose it’s really only one, after all.

Time for me to get back to work.


Jim Downey

Have another hit of conscience.

As I’ve noted before, writing a long work of fiction is a strange thing, at least for me. I spend a lot of time intensely chewing over ideas, doing research, starting to conceptualize a narrative theory for the book, outlining various relationships between images and characters, sorting out what it is I really want to say more than the actual words to use.

Betwixt & between all of this, some honest to goodness writing gets done, then reorganized and shuffled, with plans and outlines changing. More research, more thinking, more feeling my way through the darkness with the only illumination occasional flashes of lightning.

This morning, after a lot of consideration, I downloaded Scrivener. Over the next week or so I’ll play around with it a bit, see whether it will be a useful tool.

And over lunch, some research & reading. It might be interesting, or even telling, what it was that I found. Here’s an excerpt:

The effects aren’t entirely dissimilar. An easy, airy confidence. A transcendental loosening of inhibition. The inchoate stirrings of a subjective moral swagger: the encroaching, and somehow strangely spiritual, realization that hell, who gives a s—, anyway?

There is, however, one notable exception. One glaring, unmistakable difference between this and the effects of alcohol. That’s the lack of attendant sluggishness. The enhancement of attentional acuity and sharpness. An insuperable feeling of heightened, polished awareness. Sure, my conscience certainly feels like it’s on ice, and my anxieties drowned with a half-dozen shots of transcranial magnetic Jack Daniel’s. But, at the same time, my whole way of being feels as if it’s been sumptuously spring-cleaned with light. My soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher.

So this, I think to myself, is how it feels to be a psychopath. To cruise through life knowing that no matter what you say or do, guilt, remorse, shame, pity, fear—all those familiar, everyday warning signals that might normally light up on your psychological dashboard—no longer trouble you.

Interesting, indeed.

And not unlike the high which comes with creating. Or entering a manic phase in my mild bipolar cycle.

Yes, interesting. Quite.

Jim Downey

“An abnormally excitable way.”

I woke about 1:00 this morning, rolled over and looked at the clock. My side hurt, the way it usually does. But it was the nasty bit of headache which had the bulk of my semi-conscious attention. I reached over to the nightstand, picked up the pain pill I had left there. I sat up enough to pop it into my mouth, then picked up the water glass, took a drink to wash the pill down.

About 4:30 I repeated the task.

I still had the headache when I finally woke at about 6:00, just before the radio came on.

* * * * * * *

Our house is about 130 years old. It has a narrow central staircase off the kitchen which leads to the second floor, making three 90-degree turns in the process. As far as I know, these stairs are largely original, though there were some minor modifications made at the bottom back in the 1950s.

Between the first and second turns there’s an exposed nail where someone made a mistake in construction. It came through the riser, but didn’t enter the tread properly. Part of the wood popped loose, and at some point broke away. But it doesn’t really hurt anything, and is out of the way, so no one has ever bothered to fix it.

I notice things like this.

* * * * * * *

The energy dynamic has changed again.

Well, to be honest, it is always changing. But while I had been riding fairly high in my bipolar cycle, now I can feel the old doubts, the old fears starting to creep back in.

Doubts? Fears?

Of failure, of course.

As I contemplate putting together the Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well, I start to worry. Will it be successful? How the hell am I going to reach the audience for Communion of Dreams to let them know about it? For that matter — can I even write the damned book, and if I do, will everyone just hate the thing?

* * * * * * *

Yesterday the Diane Rehm Show had a segment about migraines. From the transcript, this is Dr. David Dodick, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic and chair of the American Migraine Foundation speaking:

Well, Diane, when one does a functional scan, like Dr. Richardson just talked about, whether it’s a PET or a functional MRI, we see activation of certain regions in the brain and certain networks in the brain, particularly those networks that process sensory information, like light and noise and pain and emotion. So we see activation of all of these networks during migraine. And indeed what we’ve come to recognize now is that not just during a migraine attack.

But even in between attacks the brain is processing all of that sensory information in an abnormally excitable way. So, migraine was thought to be just a disorder that comes and goes and you’re perfectly normal in between. But we now recognize the fact that it’s an abnormal processing — abnormal network processing in the brain that continues even between attacks.

* * *

And that’s one of the reasons why we, as a medical community, absolutely must take this to sort of more seriously. Migraine sufferers are three times more likely to have psychiatric disorder such as depression, anxiety, bipolar illness. They’re twice as likely to have epilepsy. They’re twice as likely to suffer an ischemic stroke. They’re six to 15 times more likely to develop brain lesions.


* * * * * * *

I woke about 1:00 this morning, rolled over and looked at the clock. My side hurt, the way it usually does. But it was the nasty bit of headache which had the bulk of my semi-conscious attention. I reached over to the nightstand, picked up the pain pill I had left there. I sat up enough to pop it into my mouth, then picked up the water glass, took a drink to wash the pill down.

About 4:30 I repeated the task.

I still had the headache when I finally woke at about 6:00, just before the radio came on.

I’ve had this headache off and on for the better part of a week. Maybe longer.

The codeine I take each evening/overnight to deal with the torn intercostal muscle pain is also effective at disrupting the development of a full migraine. But the cycle still tries to complete. It’s annoying.

But some things you learn to live with. Like imperfections in old homes. Yes, I’ll see the Kickstarter through, as well as writing the book whether or not the Kickstarter is completely successful.

Some things you learn to live with.

Jim Downey


But Wait! There’s More!

“Now, you would normally expect to pay $16.95 for a book of this size and quality! Just look at it! 420 pages full of the touching story of caring for a loved one! And those aren’t little trade paperback pages, either, but memoir-sized pages, each one charged with honest emotion and providing insight into one of the most challenging — and rewarding — experiences in life!”

“That’s right – you would expect to pay $16.95 for such a book – and it would be a fair deal. A modest price in exchange for access to the innermost thoughts and feelings of four people, each on a personal journey of love and self-discovery.”

“But you don’t have to pay $16.95. No you don’t. Why you can get the whole book — containing every single word, every single lesson learned — in Kindle format for the low, low price of JUST $8.99. That’s right — a huge savings, including no shipping or handling fees!”

“But Wait! There’s More!”

* * * * * * *

Shawn Colvin has a new book out, and has been doing the promotional circuit. I had the pleasure of hearing most of an hour-long interview with her this morning on the Diane Rehm show.

Colvin is just a couple of years older than I am. I can’t say that I have been a huge fan of hers, but I have been aware of her for a long time, and have always appreciated her talents. And Diane Rehm is one of the best in the business. As noted, I’d love to have a chance to have her interview me. The interview was engaging, and touching.

Because Colvin’s book is a memoir. No, not of care-giving. Not care-giving for someone else, anyway. Rather, it was about her own path to deal with her own demons. Depression. Substance abuse. Bad relationships. Anorexia. Toss in the usual professional stresses and failures, and it makes for a compelling story.

* * * * * * *

“That’s right, friend, there’s more: a *LOT* more.”

“Because not only can you get Her Final Year for the low, low price of just $8.99, but you can ALSO get this incredible companion volume: Communion of Dreams! That’s right — James Downey, one of the co-authors of Her Final Year, has also written a novel. And not just any novel — a work of speculative fiction which has fired the imagination of thousands, and prompted dozens of 5-star reviews on Amazon!”

“For such a work you would expect to pay at least $11.95 for the 350 page paperback! But it is available in the Kindle edition for just $4.95. That’s fight, LESS THAN one thin five-dollar bill. Such A Deal!!”

“But Wait! There’s More!”

* * * * * * *

Fascinating story this morning about efforts to stop the spread of Dengue Fever on NPR. The basic idea was to use a known effect where mosquitoes infected with a naturally-occurring bacteria are unable to transmit the virus which causes Dengue Fever. The science in the story was good, but what really caught my attention was how the effort to get this idea to work had been a *very* long and frustrating quest for the scientist behind it.

See, Scott O’Neill had been working on this project for some 20 years. The biggest problem was technical — it is phenomenally difficult to infect living mosquitoes with the bacteria. It takes thousands and thousands of attempts, working at a microscopic level, to inject the necessary bacteria into a mosquito egg, and then having said egg develop to adulthood and actually *have* the disease. Failure is a constant companion.

And so this is what caught my ear when I heard it:

Take the day in 2006, when one of Scott’s graduate students told him he thought he’d finally succeed in infecting a dengue mosquito with Wolbachia.

I figured this must have been a red-letter day for Scott, a day of sheer elation. Scott told me looking back on it, it was. But at the time it didn’t seem that way.

“Because you’re so used to failure that you don’t believe anything when you see it,” he says. “And so you can think back to when there was a Eureka moment, but at the time, you’re probably, ‘this looks good but I’ve been burnt thousands of times before. Let’s go and do it again, and the do it another time, and check and check and make sure it’s actually real.’ “

* * * * * * *

“That’s right, friend, there’s more: a *LOT* more.”

“Because while you would think that just $8.99 for Her Final Year or only $4.95 for Communion of Dreams would be a STEAL — and you would be correct to think that! — you can get *BOTH* of these books for FREE this Saturday!”

“That’s right, I said FREE, friend. As in beer! The Kindle edition of each book will be completely and totally FREE all day Saturday! All you have to do is just go and download it. Why, you do not even need to own a Kindle in order to take advantage of this phenomenal offer! That’s right, you can get a FREE Kindle app for almost every computer, tablet, or mobile device known to man!”

“But Wait! There’s More!”

* * * * * * *

I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn’t play up my own “demons” more.

Now, I haven’t been shy about talking about them. Anyone who has read my stuff for any length of time knows this. I’m honest about my background (orphaned at 13), my failures (both recent and older ones), and my own struggles with mild bipolar disorder and health problems. Talking about these aspects of my life helps to provide some context for the things I think and do — it is all part of who I am and why I see the world as I do.

But I try not to dwell on such things. I have never considered myself a tragic figure or particularly burdened. Whether or not it was Plato who actually said “be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” that aphorism is still very true, and my own battle hasn’t been especially more difficult than the one many people fight. In very many ways I have been extremely fortunate, and I know that. And I’m thankful for it.

But still, there is no denying that tragedy sells.

* * * * * * *

“More? How can there be More? The Kindle edition of both books are already FREE — what more could any reasonable person ask for???”

“Well, I’ll tell you what. How about a *signed* copy of the paperback edition of each book? For FREE!”

“That’s right. FREE!”

“All you gotta do is post a comment here. Or on our Facebook page. Or send a Tweet. Do any of these things between now and Sunday morning, and your name will be entered into a drawing for a FREE signed copy of the paperback! You can enter once for each book at each venue — a possibility of 6 chances in total! What more could you possible ask for?”

“So, don’t delay — enter your name, today! And remember to download your FREE copy of the Kindle edition of Her Final Year and Communion of Dreams this coming Saturday!”

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the Her Final Year blog.)

Let’s do it again!

Cross posted from the Her Final Year blog. For those who are new to my blog, much of the material in the memoir was stuff I wrote here, first, as we were going through the experience of being care-providers for my Mother-in-law. It is *intensely* honest and personal, but that gives it power – showing others what it is like to be a care-giver through the good times and the bad. Many people have found it to be very helpful.



Well, last Sunday’s free Kindle edition promotion was very successful – we had over 400 downloads, from the US, the UK, and even Italy! If you were one of the people who downloaded the book, we hope you are finding it useful in understanding how we went through the arc of being care providers.

The response was so good that we’re going to do it again this coming Sunday. Yup, anyone will be able to download the Kindle edition of Her Final Year for free. You don’t need a special code. You don’t need to enter any kind of drawing. You don’t even need a Kindle – there is a free Kindle emulator/app for almost all computers/tablets/mobile devices. Just go to the Kindle page for the book, and “buy” it for $0.00.

Please help spread the word – tell friends and family members. Post the info to your Twitter or Facebook accounts. Share it with forums for care-givers. We want to get this book widely disseminated so that it can do more good.

Thank you – it has been very rewarding to hear back from those who have found the book valuable either as care-providers or for understanding what care-providers they know are going through.

Jim Downey

Entering Stage Five.*

I recently told someone that Communion of Dreams had just been on the verge of publication when the publisher went belly up.

That’s what I hoped happened. I wasn’t exactly sure if it was true.

* * * * * * *

As noted, last year was . . . rough.

I was left hanging by the Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named, who stopped answering my queries about the status of when CoD was going to be out.

In frustration over that, I threw myself into the other projects I had pending. First, the big sequences of BBTI tests. Then getting Her Final Year ready for publication. Then the launch of HFY. Then working on the complete revamp of the BBTI site, and getting *that* launched.

* * * * * * *

Through it all, from one big project to the next, I hoped to strike paydirt. To assuage my frustration over the seeming failure (once again) with Communion of Dreams with success elsewhere.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

* * * * * * *

I think Gore Vidal was very insightful:

It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

* * * * * * * *

I recently told someone that Communion of Dreams had just been on the verge of publication when the publisher went belly up.

That’s what I hoped happened. I wasn’t exactly sure if it was true.

Yesterday, with some trepidation, I looked to see whether it was.

Why trepidation? Because if the PWSNBN had gone belly up, then that wasn’t a judgment on the quality of CoD. It wasn’t yet another rejection. Like I said, 2011 was a rough year.

Well, the PWSNBN still exists, in some nominal sense, as they are trying to push a new software product for publishers. But they haven’t published any other books, and seem to only be making a half-hearted effort at supporting the ones they had published previously. So I guess I at least dodged the bullet of having CoD tied up with that mess.

I was a little surprised that I took no real satisfaction in this. Because last year I had a lot of bitterness about the whole thing. Bitterness which spilled over into other areas of my life, as you can plainly see, and at times got wrapped up with my cyclic depression.

Oh, I am completely capable of schadenfreude. It just seems that in this case I am ready to move on.

Got about one-third of the way through proofing the manuscript yesterday. Hope to finish the work today or tomorrow. Still need to do the forward and acknowledgements and so forth. Then it will be ready for a print-proof of the hard copy version.

Yeah, moving on.

Jim Downey

*This, of course.

Still flat.
July 27, 2011, 9:50 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Bipolar, Book Conservation, Failure, Marketing, Publishing

I mentioned a week ago that I felt “flat”. I still do.

On our walk this morning I was thinking about it, after mentioning to my Good Lady Wife that I felt about ‘half a bubble off’ and that I just didn’t ‘fit into my skin right’ that this is likely just my normal lowpoint in my bipolar cycle. The timing is right, the feeling is right. I hadn’t really noticed it because I had been working so hard to stay focused on getting Her Final Year ready for publication, with all the creative energy that generated.

Work that meant I got very little other, paying, work done, I should add. Meaning that I’m feeling more than a little financial pressure to boot, of the ‘short-term-cash-flow’ variety. That we’ve sold a grand total of 9 books so far isn’t helping my frame of mind – making me more than a little nervous that this is all going to turn out to be one more of my brilliant ideas which is a complete fiasco.

Like I said – hitting or heading towards the lowpoint in my bipolar cycle. Charming, isn’t it?

Ah, well. I know how to walk through this. Focus on the things I *can* do. Conservation work. Marketing the book by writing about it in the proper venues. Water my garden. Put one foot in front of the other. Try and stay healthy, and hope for the best.

We’ll see what happens.

Jim Downey


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