Communion Of Dreams

“You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs.”

Of late, as I have been slowly getting over the rather nasty bout of parainfluenza I mentioned previously, shedding the more annoying and disgusting symptoms, I’ve also come to realize that just now I am pulling out of the depressive trough of one of my long-term bipolar cycles.  It wasn’t a particularly bad trough, and was somewhat mitigated by the success of the Kickstarter back in the fall. Nonetheless, it was there, as I can see in hindsight.

I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.

Which isn’t true, of course, but that was the emotional reality which I had been dealing with. The “narrative truth”, if you will. A term I borrow from a very interesting meditation by Oliver Sacks at the New York Review of Books website titled Speak, Memory. From the article:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

Let me repeat one bit of that: “Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves.”

I think this is at the very heart of why fiction has such power, and appeal. I also think that it explains the well-documented phenomenon of people believing things which are clearly and demonstratively false, if their facts come from a trusted source.

Little surprise that writers of fiction are aware of this very human trait, and have explored it in all manner of ways. I have a note here on my desk, a scrawl written on a scrap of paper some months ago as I was thinking through character motivations in St. Cybi’s Well, which says simply: “We take our truths from the people we trust.”

And here’s another example, from one of my favorite movies, exploring a favorite theme of Philip K. Dick’s:


That theme? The nature of reality.  And this is how the Sacks essay closes:

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

In other words, that reality is a shared construct. A Communion of Dreams, if you will.

Time for me to get back to work.


Jim Downey

Turn! Turn! Turn!*

This is . . . difficult.

Difficult because it is hard to see myself this way. Difficult because it is largely taboo in our culture. Difficult because I’m still struggling with it. Difficult because reality sometimes comes as a shock.

Last year was a hard year for me, as I said earlier:

Because 2011, while it had some good things about it, was mostly just painful. Literally. In many regards, I’d just as soon forget the bulk of it.

But I hadn’t quite realized just how hard it was until confronted with some numbers yesterday. Those numbers were on our tax returns, collected from the accountant.

Yeah, like I said, taboo. You’re not supposed to talk about income in our culture, at least within certain limits. I won’t stray too far over the line, but I will say that there was a reason that I was feeling frustrated and angry last year about the response to my writing efforts. That reason amounted to having an income so low that after deductions, we owed *no* taxes to either the state or federal government in the final analysis. Well, we had to pay the ‘self-employment’ tax, but that’s it.

Do you know how little you have to make in order to not pay any income tax? Well, trust me, if you don’t, you don’t want to, at least not by direct experience.

It was due to a combination of things. The recession had squeezed my book conservation business all along, limiting the money people had for something so discretionary, but last year was the worst. And the pain from my intercostal tear was very limiting until very recently. And I sunk way too much time and energy into getting Her Final Year ready for publication and then trying to promote it. Yes, I accept my own culpability for this, and I am not trying to blame or shame anyone else.

Which is why it is difficult to talk about. But facing the hard, cold reality helps me to understand some things. About my self. About my motivations and behavior over the last year or so.

Obviously, I got through the last year OK, thanks to a variety of resources I had. Hell, I was able to travel to New Zealand (a commitment made when things were more flush). And I’m happy to say that so far this year things are looking up. My book conservation work has picked up. My intercostal tear is *slowly* getting better.

And I’m actually selling books. Not too many of Her Final Year yet, but a decent start with Communion of Dreams.

Thanks to all who have helped to change the dynamic. Seriously, just knowing that people find the books worthwhile – that they are willing to tell others about them, write reviews, et cetera, makes a huge difference. I very much appreciate it.

Jim Downey


“And there will be joy.”*
March 25, 2012, 8:49 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Depression, Health, Hospice, Kindle, Marketing, movies, Promotion, Publishing, Society

So, we’re doing another free promotion day for the Kindle edition of Her Final Year.

One thing I realized some time back was that many people just don’t want to think about care-giving. That’s understandable, because there’s a *lot* about care-giving which is stressful, unpleasant, depressing.

But that isn’t all there is. I have said to others that this experience of being a care-provider was the hardest thing I have ever done, but that it also made me a much better person. Why? Well, because of moments like this, from the ‘November: Endgame’ chapter of the book, originally written in November 2007:

After a particularly rough patch of it yesterday morning, I was helping her [Martha Sr] from the toilet to her usual seat in the front room, where she likes to sit and look at magazines. As we transitioned from the wheelchair to her comfy chair, and I got her settled safely there, she looked up at me, her frail thin arms still around my neck, her light brown eyes clear for a moment, and said “thank you, son.”

In the more than twenty years I’ve known her, in the twenty years I have been married to her daughter, she has never once before called me “son.” In fact, since my own parents died almost 40 years ago, no one has called me that. It was a strange word to hear directed my way. And it touched me like no other thanks she has ever offered.

So, don’t be afraid. If you haven’t read the book, go download a copy for free now. And tell your friends and family members about it. This is something which may not be useful right now, but the chances are that it will be relevant at some point in your life. And knowing that you can face that with a measure of joy can make all the difference.

Jim Downey

*Yes, from this.

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.

As the days grow longer.
December 24, 2011, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Art, Depression, Failure, General Musings, Health, Migraine, Predictions, Survival

“So, how’re you doing?”

It’s the sort of question which comes after all the preliminary stuff, all the catching-up with an old friend who I haven’t seen in a couple of years. Your best friends are like that: able to ask the same question that everyone asks, but have it mean something more.

* * * * * * *

This morning I woke up, not hurting.

This was unexpected. Yesterday had been a long day, and I hurt a lot. The source of the pain was just a minor case of post-nasal drip. No, that didn’t hurt. But it caused me to do a fair amount of coughing. That’s what hurt. Yeah, because of the torn intercostal muscle high on my right side, which feels like a broken rib. The one I’ve had for about 16 months now.

So I expected to hurt. In fact, most of the time I expect to hurt.

Chronic pain is different than short-term pain. Oh, I’ve broken plenty of bones, and know what it means to *really* hurt for days, and then to ache for weeks. For a couple of decades now I’ve had a knee which can cause an immense amount of pain if I subject it to the wrong kind of use, and that pain will remain intense for a week or so. Pain is no stranger in my life. Never has been.

But chronic pain, that’s different, as I’ve come to learn. It almost takes on a physical weight, which you have to carry around. That wears you out, sometimes sooner in the day, sometimes later. It functions like a restraint you have to strain against to accomplish anything. It’s like having a migraine – a full fledged, nausea-inducing, sparkly lights & mild vertigo migraine – and still having to drive over an icy road into the sun.

* * * * * * *

My garden still hasn’t been put to bed for the year. Yeah, it’s really late.

It’s just one manifestation of how this year has gone. Everything has taken longer than I expected, cost more than I thought it would, and didn’t work out quite the way I hoped it to.

Partly this is due to the chronic pain. Partly it is due to mistakes on my part. Partly it is just because of chance. By turns this has made me depressed, disappointed, disgusted. Sometimes even on the brink of despair.

And yet…

* * * * * * *

“So, how’re you doing?”

It’s the sort of question which comes after all the preliminary stuff, all the catching-up with an old friend who I haven’t seen in a couple of years. Your best friends are like that: able to ask the same question that everyone asks, but have it mean something more. I am fortunate enough to have several such close friends.

“It’s been a long year. And not a good one.” I looked at my friend. She nodded. “But I’ve had worse. And I’ve had an idea about a new story I want to tell…”

Jim Downey

Fat and happy.
April 8, 2011, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Health, MetaFilter, Society, Survival

The uncle I lived with following the death of my parents had a response he used almost whenever someone asked how he was doing. With a big grin, raising a beer almost as a toast, he’d say “fat and happy!”

* * * * * * *

MetaFilter pointed me to an interesting science item from last year that I managed to miss:

ScienceDaily (May 18, 2010) — When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

* * * * * * *

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that my usual bipolar cycle seems to be a little shorter this time around, and I am in something of a downturn.

Nothing too bad yet. And not likely to become so, since my cycle is pretty shallow as such things go. But I am less inclined to write here. It is harder to write in general – for my regular articles, working on the book, even on Facebook.

But I’ve noticed, and mentioned it to friends.

Which is somewhat . . . annoying. I need to rally and beat the ongoing problems from the pneumonia I had last year (primarily through exercise). I have a new big round of ballistics testing coming up the end of the month. Getting the care-giving book out means a lot of work and attention. And there is always book conservation work to do.

* * * * * * * *




This is unsurprising:

Why French Fries Are Such Good Comfort Food

Ever wonder why French fries, potato chips and Cheetos are so appealing when you’re feeling stressed? A new study suggests that elevated levels of salt in the body lower stress hormones and raise levels of oxytocin, a hormone involved in love and other social connections.The research, which was conducted in rats, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. It found that rats’ response to a stressful situation — being tied down — depended on how much salt they had in their bodies. When restrained, rats with high salt levels showed less activity in their brain’s stress systems, compared with rats with normal salt levels.

Where are the pretzels?

* * * * * * *

The uncle I lived with following the death of my parents had a response he used almost whenever someone asked how he was doing. With a big grin, raising a beer almost as a toast, he’d say “fat and happy!”

He wasn’t really fat – just a big guy, and a bit heavy. I’m easily as heavy as he was then, or moreso.

And to a certain extent, even then I knew that the “happy” part masked the stresses he was under – and which he coped with admirably, at least as I see it from this vantage point.

And, as usual, he demonstrated a wisdom I did not appreciate at the time.

“Fat and happy,” indeed.

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

“Never underestimate . . .
August 4, 2010, 3:09 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Book Conservation, Depression

. . . the power of human stupidity.

Gah. A bit of a rant.

Some people do not listen to a single word you say.

Last week one evening, as we were eating dinner, we got a call on our landline. I answered it.

It was a client, calling to see if her family bible was finished. Why was she calling me on my home phone, instead of at my business number? Well, she had lost my business card, see . . .

We chatted. I told her I had been waiting to hear back from her on whether she wanted the work we discussed done or not.

She insisted she had.

I knew she hadn’t.

See, she had left the book with me at the beginning of the summer – she was leaving to go on vacation, and the book actually belonged to her mom, from whom she would need approval to have the work done. (This woman was at least my age, likely older.) Furthermore, for new clients I always require a 50% deposit on work before I start on it. A deposit which I had not received. And that once I had a deposit, I would schedule the work to be done – but that usually takes 4 – 6 months before I can get to it.

So I knew she hadn’t given me the green light to proceed.

But I also knew that I was nearing the bottom of a mild depressive cycle, with minimal tolerance for people. With that self-awareness, I figured that telling her she could come by and pick up her damned book and shove it up her butt was probably not the best thing. I asked her to give me a week to get the work done, and that I would call her.

This afternoon early I finished the work on the book. I called the client, explained that I was finishing up the work, and that the book would be dry from the final procedure and ready to pick up anytime this evening or the rest of the week, at her convenience. I asked her to let me know when she was coming by, so that I could make sure to be here (not running errands or something.) All of this is standard for me, and the way I have conducted business for 6 years.

Well, guess who just showed up a few minutes ago. Right. No, she didn’t call first. Of course not. I’m reasonably sure had I asked her, she would have told me that I said she should come right over and get the book. Because she didn’t listen to what I told her, at all.


Jim Downey

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 168 other followers