Communion Of Dreams

August 29, 2008, 9:24 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Book Conservation, General Musings

Quick update to this post: I did finally get payment for the conservation work, and on Wednesday we finished getting my wife moved out of her office.  By next Wednesday the bulk of the estate stuff will be gone for the auction, so things will eventually settle out here at home.  This is good.

And my wife and I are getting ready to leave for the weekend.  All weekend.  Just going.  Sure, we’ve made arrangements for someone to check in on the pets regularly, but that is all the arrangements we needed to make in order to be gone.  Which is rather a substantial change from how my life had been the last five or six years.  Wow.

Have a good weekend.

Jim Downey

A guest post.
August 28, 2008, 9:40 am
Filed under: Art, Failure, General Musings, Promotion, Society, Survival

Shawna Johnson was my manager, my assistant, my friend during a large portion of the time I owned and operated Legacy Art here in Columbia. A very talented artist in her own right, I also found her an invaluable resource at the gallery. We’ve maintained a close connection over the last several years, since she moved to New York to fight the good fight there.

Last night she sent me this meditation. After reading it, I asked if she’d allow me to post it here, since she talks about things I have referenced several times, and echoes many of my own thoughts. With her permission, here it is.

Jim Downey


Legacy became a legacy on May 31, 2004. The doors were closed and locked. Nothing was left but the dregs of a half-keg of stout from Flatbranch Pub and some empty plastic cups scattered around. The gallery space of 4000 square feet looked bigger than it ever had before. Each nail hole in the wall seemed to stare out at me, silently accusing. The ceiling fans clicked and their flat sound just reverberated in the dead space. Every inch of that space seemed to be waiting for something.

The only artwork that remained was the floor sculpture of Jim Kasper. It was a jester head. It stared out into the vast emptiness with a similarly blank expression, and said nothing. Just like the jester, everyone was putting on masks that day. Not out of deceitful urges, but because they just did not know what to feel. There really were just too many options. Memories crowded around, butting into conversations, demanding to be recognized. Maybe they were afraid of becoming legacies too.

Most artists came in rather subdued. For some, it appeared to be similar to going to a funeral. They spoke softly, as if out of respect for the dead or mourning. Or maybe they just didn’t like the way the mammoth space amplified their voices. One voice stood out over all. Jim Downey’s forced boisterousness comforted many and gave them the direction they needed. His laugh was heard booming overhead quite often, as if to retaliate against the despair, or to say something noble and profound about the unconquerable art spirit. Many left that day inspired by him to keep fighting the good fight. Few of us knew the fight that was going on inside of Jim. Even fewer knew that the laugh and the effort behind it were both forced. I was grateful for his effort, for it gave me the courage to do the same. As his assistant, it was crucial that I stay in synch with the tone he set. He projected the spirit of undaunted hope and continually repeated the list of victories, insisting that everyone focus on what had been accomplished in eight years of trying. I found myself saying the same things, as if we had rehearsed beforehand. We hadn’t. I just trusted his leadership and followed the tone he set. It may just be the only thing that got me through that day. Or through the next two years. That litany of good deeds running through my mind helped me to ignore the sounds of defeat.

Now, four years later, I am finally listening to some other sounds from the past. Each day a remembered voice penetrates my mental filter, or the image of an artist’s face. Scrolling through my phone’s list of stored numbers, a name jogs a memory. Often I have hurried on, refusing to accommodate the memory. But they keep coming back. Lately I have begun to allow myself to linger for a moment, here and there. Was Jim’s method the best for dealing with the loss we all experienced? I don’t know about right, wrong, or best, but it certainly enabled us all to survive and to put that day behind us. Now I have begun to bring it back, piece by piece, in manageable portions, to process and evaluate. To cleanse myself and let the wound heal.

My position at Legacy enabled me to see a lot of things. I saw how, for many people, art is simply decoration, a background for what they see as real life. It is not a necessary commodity, but a luxury of sorts. Most considered their art purchases as some kind of treat, and bought only on special occasions. People constantly needed to be reassured of the validity of their purchase. Very few felt confident as consumers to decide for themselves which paintings were better, and seemed to think there was some hidden magic code that they were not privy to.

I, on the other hand, felt quite confidant in my role. I knew what I believed about art. I knew what was good or successful art based on formal qualities and my own definition of art. I easily shared these things with patrons, offered them guidance, and encouraged their own confidence. People often left the gallery feeling bolstered by my input, whether they chose to buy that day or not. I felt that because of this, we were making progress. I believed it was possible for one little gallery to change the face of consumerism in that college town. I was convinced that if people were simply educated, they would come to see what I saw and value art as I did. Once that happened, the money would follow.

We had a wide range of price brackets. Anyone could afford something in our shop. In fact, when Jim ran the numbers that spring, he determined that if all of the members of our mailing list had spent ten dollars a month, we would have more than doubled our net income. (Ten bucks seems like nothing to me, living here in New York.) There were five hospitals in our town of 100,000 residents. We were home to the state university and two other private colleges. It seemed logical to deduce that there were plenty of intelligent, cultured people who could afford $100 annual investment in the arts. If only we could educate them and provide a safe, secure environment for them to ask questions and grow confident in their ability to choose which painting to buy. That was my theory.

So, what went wrong?

The subject perplexes me. It has to be a combination of factors…I’m just not sure which ones were most prevalent. Every time I examine the question, I come away with a different answer. How do you keep from repeating the past when you can’t understand it? At one time I thought it possible to change the way Americans view art. Now I am quite shaky on what I think. I see increasing evidence that the ones responsible for America’s view of art compose quite a stockpile list. All arts professionals have an influence: curators, gallery directors, teachers, grant-writers, critics, the media, and even artists themselves. Perhaps artists are the most responsible.

I would like to know why we failed and if there is any chance of redirecting this avalanche that is swallowing up my hope. Is it possible to change the system? I don’t want to grow old wondering, “What if…?” And I also don’t want to end up an old, bitter, jaded person who tried to change it but eventually accepted that resistance was futile. Can I live with myself if I don’t try? Can I live with the world if it doesn’t turn out to be what I want it to be? These two questions present an essential crossroad in life which I am trying not to view as a roadblock. In my efforts, I constantly fall back on Jim’s method of remembering old victories. I also think it’s O.K. if I let the engine idle here a while as I let myself refuel.

Shawna Johnson

August 27, 2008, 8:07 am
Filed under: Feedback, Marketing, Predictions, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

A couple of quick items . . .

We’re now over 11,400 downloads of Communion of Dreams – that’s about 400 in the last month.

Sometime overnight we passed 25,000 hits to this blog.  I mentioned a few months back that Welcome to the Hobbit House was far and away the most popular post I’ve written.  It still is, by a factor of 10x.  It seems to pop up fairly high when people search for “hobbit”, “hobbit house” and variations thereof.  Not my most thought-provoking or literary post, but there you go.

Oh, yeah, this is post 461.  Given my usual rate of posting, I should cross 500 sometime in October.  I’ll try to make note of it.  Since my posts tend to average 400 – 500 words, that means we’re somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 words, or half again the number of words in Communion.  But while I do try and put a little thought into most of the things I post here, that is nothing like the amount of work required to write a book-length work of fiction.

So, thanks to one and all who stop by here (particularly those who comment), and who have downloaded Communion and told friends/forums about the book.  Sometime in the next few weeks I’ll have a small bit of news about the novel (no, I have not been contacted by a publisher or anything).

Maybe more later today.

Jim Downey

There are times . . .
August 26, 2008, 11:44 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Book Conservation, General Musings, Health

There are times in your adult life when you just hunker down, get stubborn, and see to the end whatever unpleasantness you are experiencing. The last few weeks have sort of felt that way. Hell, the last few years have *been* that way. And a reasonable argument could be made that my entire life would qualify.  It’s like that old paraphrase of the laws of thermodynamics: “You can’t win.  You can’t even break even.  And they won’t let you quit.”

Anyway, back to the present. I mentioned the beginning of last month that we were engaged in some moving chaos. Well, it’s gotten worse since. We’ve been getting things ready for the auction house to haul stuff away for an auction next month. And my wife is now moving her architecture practice home. This latter had been the long-term plan all along, once Martha Sr was gone, but for various reasons it has become necessary for this to take place now. Meaning more boxes, more moving of furniture, more crowding of space as things are shifted and re-shifted, juggling this and that in such a manner that the three-dimensional puzzle all works out the way it needs to. But at least I’m getting regular exercise.

Oh, that other thing I mentioned in moving chaos, about having just delivered the first big batch of books? Well, I still haven’t been paid for that work. Some kind of screw-up in the business office, people on vacation, yada yada. Which is a problem. Because unlike my private clients, who have to put down a 50% deposit on work, my institutional clients get billed when the work is completed. Meaning that I am effectively out about 4 months of pay (because I first did a batch of work for Special Collections, and then got started on the next round of books for the seminary). If there’s one thing worse than being unemployed, it is working but not getting paid for it. What should be the start of getting back on my feet financially, after years of minimal income due to care-giving, has become an unexpected crunch, thanks to the ineptitude of whoever was responsible for processing my invoice. Thanks, buddy – I owe you one.


Anyway, soon my wife will be out of her office, and the auction house will collect things. Eventually I’ll get paid by my clients. Things will get better. But for now, it’s just a matter of hunkering down, getting through this. As always.

Jim Downey

Dance a dance of four-space.
August 25, 2008, 6:54 am
Filed under: Art, movies, Science, Space

Got two hours to spare? It could open up a whole new dimension in your life.

No, this is not some Amway scam, new-age Woo, or political revival. It’s a series of brilliant videos (along with explanatory text) put together by a French mathematician which explore the existence of a fourth spatial dimension. And it is *very* cool. From ScienceNews:

So can any of these techniques help us visualize Schläfli’s 600-sided, four-dimensional shape? Using a computer, Ghys first passes Schläfli’s regular, four-dimensional shapes through three-dimensional space and looks at the three-dimensional “slices” created. This helps a bit, but just as in two dimensions, it’s not easy to assemble an image of the higher-dimensional shape this way.

Next, he draws the three-dimensional “shadows” of the four-dimensional objects. This turns out to be much better: Rotating the objects around to see different facets of them can give a pretty good feeling for their shapes.

Finally, he uses stereographic projection. The idea is the same as projecting from three to two: You blow the four-dimensional shape up into a ball, and then you place a light at the “north pole” and project the image down into three dimensions. That process is all-but-impossible for us to visualize, just as the process of projecting a three-dimensional ball would be impossible for the lizards to imagine. The results, though, are gloriously easy to make sense of.

OK, for this old dog it is still a bit tough – my imagination is not as supple as it once was. But even I could start to get glimpses, on the first viewing. I plan on taking the time to make at least one more pass at the series. For someone such as myself who lacks the mathematics background to really understand what is going on, this is a very helpful tool. Seriously – give it a try. It could open up a whole new dimension for you.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi. Cross posted to UTI.)

Do you own a fire extinguisher? Why?

Hmm. As noted in comments in the previous post, I seem to never have cross-posted this essay here from Daily Kos. So, I thought I would.

Jim Downey


Do you own a fire extinguisher? Why?

Do you own a fire extinguisher? Why? Are you expecting a fire? Or do you have some sort of left-over juvenile desire to play fireman, a private macho image of rushing into a burning building to save a child? Don’t you know that improperly used, a fire extinguisher can be dangerous to yourself and others? And there have been “studies” done that show people who own fire extinguishers are actually more careless with fire risks, thinking that they’ll always be able to resort to their fire extinguisher to solve the problem. Besides, firefighters are always right there when you need them, and can put out any fire for you, so there’s no point in having your own fire extinguisher.

How about an emergency first-aid kit? Do you have one of those? Why? Are you expecting to injure yourself? Or do you have some sort of left-over juvenile desire to play doctor, a private macho image of saving someone from bleeding to death with an improvised tourniquet? Don’t you know that improperly used, medical supplies and equipment can be dangerous to yourself and others? And there have been “studies” done that show people who own first-aid kits are actually more careless in general, thinking that they’ll always be able to resort to their medical supplies to repair any injury they sustain. Besides, Emergency Medical Technicians or doctors are always right there when you need them, and can instantly patch you up if you get injured, so there’s no point in having your own first-aid kit.

Are these responses to being prepared absurd? Yeah. But they are exactly the sorts of responses I get when people find out I have a permit for carrying a concealed weapon, and generally carry a pistol whenever and wherever I can legally do so. And my experience is not at all unusual – most gun owners encounter the same sort of reaction from non-gun owners. We’re asked if we’re expecting to have a shoot-out in the supermarket. We’re asked if we have some childish fantasy about playing cops & robbers. We’re told that if we want to play with guns and shoot people that we should join the military. We’re confronted with facts that guns are inherently dangerous to ourselves and others, and that “studies” have shown that owning a gun makes it more likely that we will behave in such a fashion as to need to resort to using one to get us out of a dangerous situation. And besides, there’s always a cop around when you need one, just to protect you, so there’s no need to have a weapon for self defense.

Are there gun owners who think that carrying a weapon makes them invincible, and they therefore go around with a chip on their shoulder, putting themselves in dangerous situations thinking that they can always whip out their pistol and escape? Yeah, probably. But that is no more the typical mindset of a gun owner than is the notion that someone who owns a fire extinguisher is going to be careless with fire risks. Are guns inherently dangerous, and if used improperly present a threat to the owner and anyone else in the vicinity? Definitely. Which is why anyone who carries a weapon has a responsibility (usually mandated by law in the state which issued their concealed carry permit) to know how to safely handle and use a firearm, how to safely store it, and when it can be legally used in defense of self or another. And are there gun owners who think that they’re some kind of auxiliary police force, ready to jump in and right any criminal wrong they see being committed? Yup. In fact, a lot of people who legally carry a firearm do so precisely because there are situations where intervening could save the life of a loved one, a friend or even a stranger. But that doesn’t mean that they are wanna-be cops. Rather, they’re just trying to help contribute to their own safety and the safety of others. The police, firefighters and EMTs can’t be everywhere. We do have a responsibility to protect ourselves, to make prudent preparations in the event of an unexpected turn of events. That means having a fire extinguisher handy in case of a fire. It means having a first aid kit, and knowing some basic medical skills for dealing with an emergency. And for me it means having a gun available as a tool for self protection. Your level of comfort with how you are prepared for what situations may well be different, but that does not mean that my decision, and the decision of millions of other Americans, to legally and safely carry a concealed weapon is wrong or paranoid.

Jim Downey

Just down the road.

[This post contains mild spoilers about Communion of Dreams.]

I’ve had some people say that the Edenists I created for Communion of Dreams are just absurdly overblown – that I have unfairly mischaracterized both fundamentalist religion and radical environmentalists.  I don’t usually argue with people who say things like this – my goal is not to convince everyone that my book of speculative fiction is right in all of its particulars.  I just hope that they will continue to pay attention to the world around them, and see what is happening.

Like this item, via PZ Myers:

Should Evolutionists Be Allowed to Roam Free in the Land?

* * *

Clearly then, “evolutionists should not be allowed to roam free in the land.” All that remains for us to discuss is “What should be done with evolutionists?” For the purposes of this essay, I will ignore the minor issue of Western-style jurisprudence and merely mention possible solutions to the “evolutionism problem,” leaving the legal details to others:

  • Labor camps. Their fellow believers were high on these.  But, my position would be that most of them have lived their lives at, or near the public trough. So, after their own beliefs, their life should continue only as long as they can support themselves in the camps.
  • Require them to wear placards around their neck, or perhaps large medallions which prominently announce “Warning:Evolutionist! Mentally Incompetent – Potentially Dangerous.” I consider this option too dangerous.
  • Since evolutionists are liars and most do not really believe evolution we could employ truth serum or water-boarding to obtain confessions of evolution rejection. But, thisshould, at most, result in parole, because, like Muslims, evolutionist religion permits them to lie if there is any benefit to them.
  • An Evolutionist Colony in Antarctica could be a promising option. Of course inspections would be required to prevent too much progress. They might invent gunpowder.
  • A colony on Mars would prevent gunpowder from harming anyone but their own kind, in the unlikely event they turned out to be intelligent enough to invent it.

That’s an excerpt from the close of the piece, after the author has gone through some effort to define who ‘evolutionists’ are (he seems to mix up socialism, communism, Nazism, and support for slavery.  No, really, he says that ‘evolutionists’ are all of these things.)  Feel free to read the entire piece.

Now, as one commentor over at Pharyngula said, “that’s some weapons-grade crazy.”

My intent here isn’t to get into a discussion on this particular fellow’s pathology.  It is simply to point out that this stuff is out there, and in my experience is fairly widespread.  He’s just down the road from me about 100 miles, and growing up and living in the Midwest I have met plenty of his type.  There are a lot of people who would take such an eliminationist approach to all their perceived enemies.  Unfortunately, as we have also seen with the Earth Liberation Movement, there are also those who claim to be radical environmentalists who are willing to take violent action.  Melding two such groups was an easy step in my mind.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am not claiming that all religious adherents are violent extremists.  Nor are all environmentalists.  Hardly.  But these groups are out there.  They are not a figment of my imagination.  And if we forget that, or ignore them, we may find ourselves in a world akin to Communion of Dreams (or someplace worse.)

Jim Downey