Communion Of Dreams

Ghost stories.
October 31, 2007, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Humor, Psychic abilities

My wife passed on an item posted over on Forum Wales which I found of interest. Not saying that I “believe” or anything, but it is definitely something to take a look at. It’s a short clip, and you should turn your sound up a bit:

And in the true spirit of Halloween I give you this British Car Ad that was never run:

This is a car advertisement from Great Britain. When they finished filming the ad, the film editor noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. They found out that a person had been killed a year earlier in that exact same spot.

The ad was never put on TV because of the unexplained ghostly phenomenon. Watch the front end of the car as it clears the trees in the middle of the screen and you’ll see the white mist crossing in front of the car then following it along the road….Spooky!

Is it a ghost, or is it simply mist? You decide. If you listen to the ad, you’ll even hear the cameraman whispering in the background about it near the end of the commercial.

Car Ad

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

I can sympathize.

Umberto Eco, when asked why he wrote The Name of the Rose, famously replied: “I wanted to poison a monk.”

I can sympathize.

There are times when I’m a little grumpy, or have just had a little too much exposure to my fellow monkeys, when I’d like to kill a few people myself. In fact, catch me when I’m feeling more than a bit honest, and I’ll admit that part of the backstory of Communion of Dreams is because I think that the world really would be better off with about 2/3 of the population gone, as traumatic and painful as that might be. No, I am not advocating it – I can just see the benefit of some pandemic flu or plague, in terms of the carrying capacity of the planet.

And of course I see plenty of ways in which we’re well on the road to having this happen, as I write about here upon occasion. Take your pick: war, terrorism, global warming, disease, or even just eating ourselves to death. I just came from the store, where I needed to get some frozen raspberries for a habanero jelly recipe I want to make. There in my neighborhood supermarket were 120 feet of freezers carrying various ice creams and other dessert treats. One aisle over was 60 feet of frozen pizzas. I looked and looked for frozen fruits, and found one narrow little rack, about half the width of one 10′ wide freezer unit, containing a small selection of fruits. Think there’s something wrong there?


OK, I am a little grumpy. I’m in a cycle of migraines, it seems, having had two in the last week. Still living with the echoes of the one yesterday. But still, sometimes I feel very pessimistic about our future . . . and take a certain perverse pleasure in it.

Well, this is the 200th post. Woo-hoo. I’ll be a little more upbeat later.

Jim Downey

DM of the Rings
October 29, 2007, 10:31 am
Filed under: Comics, General Musings, MetaFilter, movies, OOTS, Peter Jackson, Tolkien, Twenty Sided

I have what can charitably be called an offbeat sense of humor. Most of my family just think that it is strange. Even some of my friends shake their heads. My wife of twenty years occasionally just nods and says, “That’s nice, dear.”

So, in that spirit, consider yourself well warned. But I came across something via MeFi yesterday that had me in stitches: Shamus Young’sThe DM of the Rings.” As he says in the intro to this unusual comic strip:

Lord of the Rings is more or less the foundation of modern D&D. The latter rose from the former, although the two are now so estranged that to reunite them would be an act of savage madness. Imagine a gaggle of modern hack-n-slash roleplayers who had somehow never been exposed to the original Tolkien mythos, and then imagine taking those players and trying to introduce them to Tolkien via a D&D campaign.

And then he goes on to do just that – run through the entire Peter Jackson movie adaptations of the Lord of the Rings books as though it was some Dungeon Master’s D & D game. Brilliantly using screen captures to illustrate the strip (in 155 episodes), he shows how this would play out.

It’s friggin’ hilarious.

I was never much of a hardcore gamer, just did enough in college and a bit after to be familiar with it, understand the humor behind a strip like OOTS. But I’ve long been a huge fan of Tolkien (even though I am not that much into the fantasy genre generally – odd). To see what Young does in juxtaposing the two shows just how absurd each really is in its own right.

So, check it out. But whether you spend the next several hours going through the storyline, or just scratch your head and wonder about me, don’t say you weren’t given fair warning.

Jim Downey

Opinions, Part II – Revenge of the HTML
October 26, 2007, 8:38 pm
Filed under: Feedback

OK, thanks to the efforts of my good lady wife (and a small annual contribution from my bank account), we’ve been able to make some of the major changes I wanted as a follow-up to this post. There’s still a bit of a glitch with the templates on marking up the ‘name’ of the blog in the header to say “home” or some such, but with the new font and layout I think that it is more obvious.

Consider this the ‘gamma’ version – in other words, things may yet be tweaked a bit, but it’s getting closer to what I want. If you have additional thoughts on the look, let me know either in comments to this post or via email.


Jim Downey

I am not a saint.
October 26, 2007, 11:56 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Failure, Health, Hospice

I just lost my temper. I just had a full-fledged screaming fit, eyes bulging, veins throbbing, face beet red. At a 90 year old woman who knows no better, who is confused by the world around her due to Alzheimer’s, who is likely dying.

Why did I just do this reprehensible thing, and why on earth am I admitting to it in a public forum?

The first part of that question is the more difficult one to answer. I did it out of frustration, exhaustion, and fear. Frustration because she (my MIL) has been exhibiting compulsive behaviours all morning which drive me nuts (tearing things out of magazines, wanting to write on the back of photos in the little album she has, ‘cleaning’ up some lunch mess with a kleenex and in the process smearing stuff all over the table top and making more work for me.) This sort of thing rapidly gets under my skin – it’s like some small kid pestering you with a behaviour that they know will drive you nuts. Except, of course, that in this case she doesn’t really know what the hell she is doing.

Exhaustion is obvious. Though I have been getting a lot more sleep, this is the end of years of being a care-giver. I do not have ‘reserves’ to draw upon. I only have a worn and fragile veneer of sanity. I have had the discussions with her which tripped my outburst hundreds of times. Sometimes, like this one, I just snap.

Fear? Because she is dying. Because in some sense, while I know that we have done everything humanly possible to care for her, and extended her life by years . . . I will still feel a sense of failure as a care provider. I hate to fail at things. I fear that others will think less of me because of that failure.

So, why tell on myself, here, in this way? Because this is part of what it means to be a care provider. You lose your temper. You scream, you shout, you act in mean and petty ways. You will lose your temper, or your sanity, now and again. And if you are to be effective as a care giver, you then have to catch your breath, forgive yourself, and get on with the task at hand. None of us are saints. We’re all frail, fallible human beings. You have to accept that, if you have any hope of getting through this. Because you can’t just take the day off to go relax, or turn this project over to someone else. You have to deal with your own outburst, then get over it as best you can. You have to keep going, whether you want to or not, whether you feel fear, or exhaustion, or shame.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Take everything you think you know…
October 25, 2007, 10:35 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Hospice, Sleep

…about care-giving and throw it out the window.

At least that is somewhat what it feels like as we’re entering what is likely the final weeks of my MIL’s life. The routines we’d established previously (Alzheimer’s patients typically like routines – it helps keep their world a little more ordered, a little more secure and predictable in amongst all the other changes they are experiencing) are starting to break down. My MIL is becoming somewhat less predictable, her sleep/awake cycles disrupted, et cetera. What were simple things she could do for herself now require greater supervision and instruction. She tires more easily, and the “sundowning” effect I’d mentioned previously tends to occur earlier in the day.

And there are the medical indicators, as well. Lisa, the hospice nurse, was here this morning for her weekly check-up. Following that, we chatted for a bit outside. As I wrote a week ago, she also sees the signs of end of life approaching. Drop in blood pressure. Decreased heart rate. Congestion in her lungs. It probably won’t be long, and Lisa wanted to make sure we have what is necessary to keep my MIL comfortable through it.

She also told us that we’re doing a marvelous job in providing care. Bittersweet, but as I said back when we started this round of hospice, good to hear.

Anyway, as we enter into these final weeks, the routines to which we’ve all become accustomed are starting to dissolve. To use a musical analogy, we’re shifting from playing well-known and rehearsed classical pieces to playing something which requires more improvisation – it’s not ‘free jazz‘ yet, but that’s where we’re likely headed. As the end grows closer, we’ll likely need to discard the sheet music altogether. This will be difficult, but will likely only last for a limited amount of time. I’m comfortable with predictable routine, and largely prefer to have some order to my life, but know full well that I am capable of dealing with uncertainty for at least a while.

At least that’s been my experience so far. I guess we’ll see how it goes this time.

Jim Downey

October 23, 2007, 8:50 pm
Filed under: Feedback

Ok, you’ve probably noticed the design changes here.  I was wanting to have the “Categories” and other nav stuff off to the side, and my good lady wife figured out a way to make it so.  If you have an opinion on the result, let us know – right now this is a ‘beta’ version, still somewhat subject to change.

Also, got another bit of feedback from “elicivilunrest” on the About page (which seems to be a popular place for a lot of folks).   See how easy it is to get a link back to your site?

Jim Downey

I coulda told them that.
October 23, 2007, 10:22 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Hospice, Science, Sleep, Society

Made a routine trip to the big-box store this morning, to stock up on catfood. I got one of those large boxes of 48 cans of different flavors my cats like. And when I went to put it away, the “easy open” tab didn’t. Instead, I wound up just destroying the whole box, ripping and tearing, so I had access to all the cans included.

It felt wonderful to be so destructive.

There are days like that for all of us. After a trip to the store, dealing with idiots who don’t know how to negotiate a check-out line. Or sitting behind the twit at the stoplight who somehow misses that the light changed and the cars in the other lane are passing him, getting his shit together just in time to slip through a yellow light and leave you sitting there for another cycle. Whatever it is, you just want to take out your frustrations in a safe and relatively sane way.

I have these days a lot. Part of it is just the toll of being a long-term care provider for someone who has a tenuous grip on reality but can be amazingly stubborn and focused in her determination to do something unsafe (or just highly annoying). But part of it is simply the effect of long term sleep disruption/deprivation that goes with providing care around the clock. I’ve known this for ages, and written about it several times. Anyone who has had insomnia, lived with an infant, or just had a bad string of luck sleeping for a few days will understand completely how grumpy and intolerant it can make you.

Well, it’s worse than you thought. At least, it’s worse than the people who study neuroscience thought:

Walker and his colleagues had 26 healthy volunteers either get normal sleep or get sleep deprived, making them stay awake for roughly 35 hours. On the following day, the researchers scanned brain activity in volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed 100 images. These started off as emotionally neutral, such as photos of spoons or baskets, but they became increasingly negative in tone over time—for instance, pictures of attacking sharks or vipers.

“While we predicted that the emotional centers of the brain would overreact after sleep deprivation, we didn’t predict they’d overreact as much as they did,” Walker said. “They became more than 60 percent more reactive to negative emotional stimuli. That’s a whopping increase—the emotional parts of the brain just seem to run amok.”

The researchers pinpointed this hyperactive response to a shutdown of the prefrontal lobe, a brain region that normally keeps emotions under control. This structure is relatively new in human evolution, “and so it may not yet have adapted ways to cope with certain biological extremes,” Walker speculated. “Human beings are one of the few species that really deprive themselves of sleep. It’s a real oddity in nature.”

In modern life, people often deprive themselves of sleep “almost on a daily basis,” Walker said. “Alarm bells should be ringing about that behavior—no pun intended.”

Gee, ya think?

Sheesh. I need to go find another box to destroy or something.

Jim Downey

Playing the Hollywood Shuffle.
October 22, 2007, 10:07 am
Filed under: Art, Feedback, General Musings, movies, Promotion, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

I heard back from the person mentioned in this post. What they said:

I’m sorry to report that the person I was hoping would pass along the novel to “hollywood” is too much of an editor and less of a reader. They have been held back by the “roughness” as Kilgore Trout put it. Although they are still hoping/planning to try and read through it I told them that if their heart wasn’t really in it enough to actually finish reading the novel not to pass it along. Networking is only helpful when done with integrity – at least to my mind. I have a couple more “connected” people to try though and will look into them. If you would like I can pass along the editorial comments.

My response:

Oh, that’s fine – as you wish. I concur that networking should only be handled with integrity – the quickest way to ‘burn your cred’ (ruin your credibility) for someone like that is to push something you don’t honestly believe in. I’m certainly willing to hear criticism – my skin is plenty thick, and I will use it as I see fit – but I’m not planning on a major rewrite of the thing anytime soon. If there are small glitches (and certainly if there are typos, et cetera), I’m perfectly happy to fix those.

I honestly think that most of the problem that some people have with the book is that they don’t give it a chance – what may seem at first exposure to be a ‘problem’ is usually an intentional technique on my part to engage the reader to be thinking or reacting to something in a specific way, setting up for either an evolution in thought later or just some kind of outright surprise. Now, since this is “just” science fiction, and I am “just” a first-time novelist, some people do not expect any kind of literary sophistication in the book. So they get partway in, see some things which confuse their expectations, and give up. Whereas if they read it all the way through (perhaps more than once), some of the more subtle things going on may become evident.

*sigh* I’m not claiming to be some kind of literary genius. Everything I did with the novel is fairly standard stuff, applied from my education and decades of reading. It’s just that too often people are not expecting anything more than a surface layer from popular fiction. And when you don’t meet their expectations, if they don’t have some faith in you as an ‘established’ or ‘recognized’ author, they give up. If I’ve failed in anything, it is not in catering to these expectations on the part of some readers to help them get past their initial confusion. I just dislike pandering to people. Certainly, that segment of my audience who have completed the book and found themselves pleased with the whole thing is more rewarding to me than those who do not make it more than a couple of chapters in.

Oh, and thanks for providing me material for the blog. 😉

Yeah, I know – makes me sound like I have a pretty inflated opinion of myself and my book. There is an element of that, I will admit. But mostly, it is just a manifestation of my self confidence – a necessary component in dealing with life, and in particular in dealing with being an artist/author. A personal essay I wrote several years ago that touches on this:


One birthday, when I was nine or ten, I woke with anticipation of the presents I would receive. Still in my pajamas I rushed into the kitchen where my parents were having coffee, expecting to get the loot which was rightfully mine. My father happily handed over a small, wrapped box. I opened it eagerly, to find a little American flag on a wooden stick. My father said that since my birthday was July 4th, he thought I would appreciate the gift. Horrorstruck first at not getting anything better, then at my own greed, I guiltily told my parents that I thought it was a fine gift. After a moment, of course, my folks brought out my real presents. I can no longer tell you what those presents were, but the lesson in expectations my dad taught me that day always remained with me. My dad had been a Marine, fought in Korea, and was a deeply patriotic cop who was killed while on duty a couple of years after that birthday. I’ve never looked at the American flag without remembering what a fine gift it really is, and have never forgotten not to take some things for granted.

When I was in High School some years later, I learned another lesson in expectations. I had always been a good student (straight A’s, involved in Student Government, various clubs, et cetera), but I was never announced as a member of the National Honor Society. With that earlier lesson about expectations firmly in mind, I watched as my friends were inducted during my Sophomore and Junior years, figuring that there was a reason that I had been passed over, that there was some flaw in my academic record that disqualified me. But I couldn’t figure out what it might be. When, during my Senior year, the NHS list came out and it didn’t have my name on it again, I decided to ask someone about it.

I went to my advisor and asked if he could explain it to me. He had only been my advisor my Senior year, but knew me fairly well, knew my GPA and my involvement level. He looked at me with some surprise and said he thought I was already a member. When I said no, he said he’d look into it. A couple of hours later I was summoned to the Principal’s office. It turned out that my file had been mis-filed years earlier. A purely clerical error. I should have been a member of the Society all along. Everyone was most apologetic, and they retroactively inducted me into the NHS.

My High School days are far behind me, and it has long since ceased to matter to me whether I received any particular recognition or award back then. As I’ve matured, gained life experience, I’ve learned many other lessons about tempering expectations, living with occasional disappointment, accepting that things don’t always work out the way you plan no matter how hard you work or how deserving you are. But those two early lessons in expectations still are the boundaries that I live by: don’t take things for granted, but don’t be afraid to ask why things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. This gives me an appreciation for life, and the strength to really live it, which I think would make both my parents proud.

So yeah, I have some ego. But it comes from realizing that you get nowhere from being afraid to create and assert yourself.

Jim Downey

Hello, Skynet!

You think you get frustrated when your computer acts up? How do you think the guys who were on the receiving end of 500 rounds of 35mm explosive anti-aircraft fire feel? From Wired’s Danger Room blog:

We’re not used to thinking of them this way. But many advanced military weapons are essentially robotic — picking targets out automatically, slewing into position, and waiting only for a human to pull the trigger. Most of the time. Once in a while, though, these machines start firing mysteriously on their own. The South African National Defence Force “is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday.”

Wasn’t something like this part of the paleo-future Skynet from the Terminator? You think maybe we should pass along to the boys at DARPA the suggestion that they should watch that movie as a cautionary tale rather than an instruction manual?

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)