Communion Of Dreams


#2, so I’ll try harder.

Earlier this year I got a nice note from the Director of Libraries at MU, asking whether I would be able to attend the Library Society annual dinner. As part of the evening’s event they were going to have on display some of the more noteworthy items from Special Collections Adopt-a-Book Program – work I had done, supported by donations – and they wanted to introduce me to their membership. Director Cogswell kindly offered to have my wife and I attend the fundraiser as guests of the Library Society.

* * * * * * *

It’s been a long week. I was sorely disappointed in the outcome of our local elections held on Tuesday, which saw a shift from Smart Growth advocates to a more “pro-development” slate of candidates for our city council/mayoral positions.

I’ve been involved in local politics at a very low level the last couple of years, mostly in trying to make sure that there was some balance between neighborhood interests and development. I’ve served as our neighborhood association president, and that has led to my participation in a variety of training workshops, as well as keeping a weather eye on development & rezoning issues in our area. I’m not against development – hardly – but I think it ought to be done with some intelligence and awareness of how it serves a community rather than just the bank account of a developer.

* * * * * * *

I confirmed that my Good Lady Wife and I would be happy to attend the Library Society dinner, though I preferred to pay the modest fund-raising donation for the dinner, and that I likewise would enjoy chatting with anyone in the Society who had an interest in my work. I’ve always been willing to do this sort of thing, meeting with donors, explaining the work I do and why it is important. In one sense, it’s self-serving – the donors are helping me earn a living – but beyond that my motivation is to help make sure the historically valuable books in these collections get the care they need.

It may sound a bit odd, but I’m actually fairly passionate about that. Yes, I do get paid for my conservation work, and it is a business – but I have always done a lot more work on rare books than I actually bill for. I don’t make a big deal out of this, it’s just my way of contributing something to the community and culture. If I were financially independent I would probably continue to do my conservation work, just as an in-kind donation to appropriate collections.

* * * * * * *

After Tuesday’s depressing election results, I had the last in a series of workshops scheduled on Wednesday to attend. The topic was “infill development” – a series set up by our Department of Planning to help explain why utilizing unused or neglected property within the city was a good strategy, and what the various issues pertaining to this kind of development were, and how development in cooperation with an established neighborhood could be to everyone’s benefit.

Let me tell you, it was damned hard to work up the motivation to attend that session. But I went, and was glad I did so.

* * * * * * *

The featured speaker for the Library Society dinner was to be Peter Hessler. Cool – I’ve read some of his work, heard him in interviews, respected his intelligence and humor. That alone would be worth the price of admission.

It was.

* * * * * * *

Thursday night there was another public event I needed to attend. It was the 2010 Neighborhood Leadership class. I had been in the 2009 class (the first one), and had been asked to sit in on a panel discussion about my actual experiences with building my neighborhood association. The other panel member is a fellow I know, like, and respect for the things he has done in his (much larger) neighborhood in this regard, and I knew that we would make a good team discussing this topic.

It went really well. I did a variation of my “don’t be afraid of failure” spiel in saying that each neighborhood would present a unique set of challenges and would need a unique set of solutions – that the neighborhood leaders would need to experiment, innovate, risk failure if they were to find the set of solutions that worked for them.

But like all such public speaking situations, it left me pretty much wrung out and a bit jittery after. Being an introvert is hell, sometimes.

* * * * * * *

We got to the pre-dinner reception, and it didn’t take very long to figure out that what I thought was going to be just a bit of a mention and some chatting with donors was actually a bigger deal than that.

These sorts of functions usually have assigned seating, with the ‘top table’ reserved for the emcee and featured speaker, a few Really Important muckity-mucks, right in front of whatever podium is being used. Well, my Good Lady Wife and I got our name tags, and discovered that we were assigned to table #2. And that our assigned seats were in perfect sight-line to the podium. And that we had the honor of sitting with the much-beloved chancellor-emeritus of the University, a couple of Deans, and assorted other Pretty Important People.

Furthermore the Director of Development caught me shortly after we got into the room, and pointed out that the centerpiece of each table was a nice flat cake. A nice flat cake which had “before” and “after” images of conservation work I had done, complete with the name of the donor who supported that work. And the cake on the #2 table was a book of Mark Twain’s “In Honor of James T. Downey”.

Huh.

* * * * * * *

Friday afternoon, before the Library Society dinner, we had another function to attend. A former employer of my Good Lady Wife’s, who is still a professional colleague and friend of hers, was celebrating his 70th birthday.

We got to the party late (it was being done as an Open House at the offices of his architecture firm), knowing that the evening event would take at least a fair amount of energy. This was a good decision.

Oh, it wasn’t riotous or anything, but there were a lot of people in attendance – current and former employees, other architects and engineers in the community. It was relaxed and informal, and I felt a little out of place in a suit & tie (we were going directly from this party to the Library Society event). I hate feeling out of place. But at least I wasn’t under-dressed for the occasion.

We chatted, enjoyed ourselves. People asked what we were doing these days. It was a good warm-up for me.

* * * * * * *

I went over to the display of the rare books, said hello to Mike Holland, who is the University Archivist, Director of Special Collections. One of his staff people was there as well, and they were doing a fine job of talking about the books on display. I joined in – introducing myself to the donors who were looking, explaining some of my working methods and materials, and so forth. It was exactly what I expected, and thanks to my previous socializing at the birthday party, I was already past my nervousness and in full “GalleryMan” mode. I had several very nice conversations.

Then we were called to take our seats so the evening festivities could begin.

The program listed my Good Lady Wife and I among the ‘sponsors’ of the dinner. I did indeed get a very nice introduction to the crowd, and a round of applause for my work. During the course of dinner several people came by the table to talk with me further, ask opinions and advice about books they owned, et cetera. We had delightful dinner conversation with our table mates. It was, all in all, a very affirming experience that helped me see that my efforts have been worthwhile and appreciated.

So, as I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by Peter Hessler after dinner, it was easy to not feel any jealousy for his recognition as a writer and author. Yeah, I did flash on how fun it would be to return to that dinner in a couple of years as the “noted author and featured speaker” of the event, but I could see that as just a fantasy. Knowing that if I got hit by a truck tomorrow my life would not have been in any sense wasted was extremely rewarding.

We all need that, now and again.

Jim Downey



“… you know, something that’ll go on a plaque.”
April 9, 2010, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Humor, MetaFilter, Neil Armstrong, Preparedness, Science Fiction, Space

Oh, this is fun:

Lets say you’re the first human ever to make alien contact…

Maybe I should rewrite Communion of Dreams again to include this advice.  Hmm.

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.



Come the apocalypse.

I grew up reading post-apocalyptic science fiction – it was part & parcel of the world of the 1960s and 70s, and so helped to shape my view of things. Unsurprisingly, this had an influence on my own writing, and shows up in my novel. From the homepage for Communion of Dreams:

Communion of Dreams is an “alternative future history” set in 2052 where the human race is still struggling to recover from a massive pandemic flu some 40 years previously. Much of the population is infertile. National borders and alliances have shifted. Regional nuclear wars have prompted some countries to turn to establishing settlements in space, and there’s a major effort to detect Earth-like planets in nearby star systems for future colonization. Fringe eco-religious groups threaten to thwart the further advancement of science and technology, and resist any effort to spread humanity to the stars.

Post-apocalyptic, but not in the sense that civilization has completely collapsed – though that is a threat which does show up in the book. Anyway, it is an interesting topic, and a popular one, leading to all manner of websites, books, and religions.

For me, the interesting thing is not the apocalyptic event itself – I have very little interest in disaster films or books – but how a civilization picks itself up from the ruins and moves forward (or doesn’t). Having had any number of personal setbacks and failures in my life, I suppose I’m just interested in the human drive to survive and rebuild. And so it is that I find this completely fascinating:

Manual for Civilization

Today we received another email about creating a record of humanity and technology that would help restart civilization.  The latest one is inspired by an essay that James Lovelock published in Science over 12 years ago called A Book For All Seasons (excerpt):

We have confidence in our science-based civilization and think it has tenure. In so doing, I think we fail to distinguish between the life-span of civilizations and that of our species. In fact, civilizations are ephemeral compared with species. Humans have lasted at least a million years, but there have been 30 civilizations in the past 5000 years. Humans are tough and will survive; civilizations are fragile. It seems clear to me that we are not evolving in intelligence, not becoming true Homo sapiens. Indeed there is little evidence that our individual intelligence has improved through the 5000 years of recorded history.

Over the years these proposals have been in different forms; create a book, set of books, stone tablets, micro-etched metal disk, or a constantly updated wiki.  I really like the idea of creating such a record, in fact the Rosetta Disk project was our first effort in this direction.  These Doomsday Manuals are a positive step in the direction of making a softer landing for a collapse, and the people creating them (like ourselves) are certainly out to help people.  It took millennia for the world to regain the technology and levels of societal organization attained by the Romans, so maybe a book like this would help that.

The Long Now Foundation is an interesting organization in its own right, and one I should probably get involved with, but life is so hectic and rushed as it is . . .

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)



I’m just a sensitive kinda guy.
April 7, 2010, 10:28 am
Filed under: Art, Science, Society, Writing stuff

Well, this comes as no surprise:

The brains of shy or introverted individuals might actually process the world differently than their more extroverted counterparts, a new study suggests.

About 20 percent of people are born with a personality trait called sensory perception sensitivity (SPS) that can manifest itself as the tendency to be inhibited, or even neuroticism. The trait can be seen in some children who are “slow to warm up” in a situation but eventually join in, need little punishment, cry easily, ask unusual questions or have especially deep thoughts, the study researchers say.

* * *

Individuals with this highly sensitive trait prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk, research suggests.

Previous work has also shown that compared with others those with a highly sensitive temperament are more bothered by noise and crowds, more affected by caffeine, and more easily startled. That is, the trait seems to confer sensitivity all around.

It’d be interesting to use the protocols from this study on artists & writers. I bet the data would skew way out of the usual distribution, with a much higher percentage of such people being considered “sensitive.”

Jim Downey



And the mind’s true liberation.*
April 4, 2010, 11:50 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Depression, Health, Music, Writing stuff

A bit of spring cleaning.

Last weekend I started in on a long-delayed project. Honestly, it’s probably been delayed at least a decade. Maybe longer.

I started cleaning the windows.

* * * * * * *

I’m almost done. Well, with the current phase of work, anyway.

I’m talking about Her Final Year. I have one more ‘month’ to go through – doing simple editing, checking for typos, familiarizing myself with the material again. I should finish that today or tomorrow.

This is how I work. It’s something like loading data into a computer. I did it with the revisions to Communion of Dreams, as well. I go through everything, carefully paying close attention. And when I’m done, and have *all* of the material fresh in my memory, I can see connections and linkages that are harder to understand when you only read it a piece at a time. With CoD, it was how I was able to keep track of the minor tweaks and changes, and how they would play out in this or that plot twist or character development – you basically see the entire text at once, almost as some kind of three-dimensional construct or sculpture. Then it becomes easier to understand what to trim, what to smooth – the classic “remove everything that isn’t the sculpture.”

But it takes an awful lot of concentration to keep it all ‘alive’ in your head like that.

* * * * * * *

I’ve mentioned before how our home is a “notable historic property.” It was built in 1883, and while it has been through a lot of changes in that time, I think the bulk of the windows are original.

Most of them on the ground floor are tall – 8′ or thereabout. With 12′ ceilings, they fit the style of the house. So cleaning them is a bit of a chore. Particularly when you’re talking about cleaning the storm windows, as well.

Here’s how it works. I have to unlatch the bottom of the window. Undo the turn buckles about halfway up. Then pull out the bottom of the frame, and lifting the window at an angle so that the top part will unhook from the hangers which support it. The storm windows are made with stout wood, and heavy glass – about 2′ wide and 8′ tall. They weigh a ton. They’re subject to getting caught by the wind. And it has to be done outside, in places where you’re lifting the thing from about shoulder height or from a ladder.

And there’s something like 30 of them.

* * * * * * *

Had a good chat with my co-author yesterday, about how progress is going on the book. He’s doing the simple edit/review of my material, as I have been doing the same of his. The next phase is to go through and identify what entries or excerpts we don’t need. Because I’ve got more time than he does currently, I’ll be doing the bulk of that, moving things into a holding file if I don’t think we need them for the correct tone of the book.

Once that is done, then we’ll go through and make sure each entry is assigned to the proper ‘month’.

Once that is done, then we’ll go through and arrange the entries within each month so that they all connect to one another in a smooth way.

Then we’ll generate the additional material we need (chapter introductions, explanatory references, et cetera).

After that, a final read-through for editing to get the manuscript in shape for submission.

We both figure another 6 – 8 weeks should do it. Maybe less.

* * * * * * *

Once the storm window has been removed, then everything gets cleaned. First, extraneous splatters and swipes of paint are removed – over the years, there has been a fair amount of this. Then thorough cleaning with a towel and glass cleaner, inside and out. Do this for the actual window, as well as the storm window.

Then remount the storm window, reversing the process described above. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to do each one, and it is somewhat physically demanding.

Ah, but the difference it makes! I’ve done half the windows in the last week, doing two or three a day unless it is storming. Now, half the house is significantly brighter, almost rejuvenated. And I can look out and not feel like I am peering through a veil, or trapped inside.

All things are becoming clear.

Jim Downey

*from this, of course.



No foolin’.

OK. It’s April 1. A day which I have come to hate, at least online.

Be that as it may, I’m not joking around about looking back at the past month, and I have some good numbers to report. As noted, I did get news that Communion of Dreams is going to be published, though I am still waiting to sort out all the details. As well as the psychological boost that gave me, it seemed to also have a boost in terms of downloads of the book. March saw a total of 891 downloads of the original “complete” manuscript, 224 downloads of the revised manuscript (which will be basically what is published), at least 61 downloads of the MP3 version of the book, and at least 17 downloads of all the individual chapters. That’s over 1100 downloads in one month, no matter how you slice it, and puts the total number of downloads over 23,000.

BBTI has continued to do very well, as well. Late in February we crossed 2 million hits to that site, and March saw another 155,165 hits – the fourth largest monthly total to date – to bring us to a total of 2,173,143 hits. We have been forced to delay doing the next round of testing, due to ammo shortages, but that hasn’t hurt the popularity of the site at all.

So, no foolin’ – March was a good month. And it is bright, and sunny, and wonderfully spring outside. April seems to be off to a decent start.

Jim Downey

Cross posted to the BBTI blog.