Communion Of Dreams

With apologies to Martin Niemöller.
October 23, 2011, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Constitution, Government, Predictions, Terrorism, Travel

First they came for the air travelers,
and I didn’t speak out because I almost never fly*.

Then they came for the train riders,
and I didn’t speak out because I don’t ride the train.

Then they came for the Greyhound riders,
and I didn’t speak out because I don’t ride the bus.

Then the came for the truck drivers,
and I didn’t speak out because I don’t drive a truck.

Then they came for me
and by then no one cared about liberty.

Jim Downey

*of course, tomorrow I am, and then again on Tuesday. So I’ll probably regret this. Which says a lot, right there.

What matters.
October 21, 2011, 9:27 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Hospice

This morning I found her curled up in her litterbox. I’m guessing that she either got in there and was too confused to get out, or she was just too tired to bother.

* * * * * * *

We leave for vacation on Monday. Meaning, of course, that everything now is a scramble to get things done before we go. I have work to deliver to Special Collections this afternoon. My wife has a hard deadline for completing a project this afternoon, and then another bunch of stuff that has to be done before we head out for the airport.

This is, in other words, no time for a crisis with one of the pets.

But life happens on its own schedule.

So does death.

* * * * * * *

From our book, and previous to that my blog:

Anyway, Martha Sr is still hanging in there. She’s weaker, her breathing continues to deteriorate, she’s in a deeper coma than I mentioned earlier, and her fever is now 5 degrees above normal. But she is still fighting. It isn’t necessarily what I would have chosen for her, but my respect for her has stepped up another notch.

* * * * * * *

As I said last week:

That’s not to say that caring for a cat is like caring for a human. Nor to compare the two. I love my pets, and honor my responsibility to them, but when it comes down to it, they are just pets, however much I consider them part of the family.

But there is an echo, a memory of how things were some four years ago . . .

An echo. A memory. Part of the pattern of life.

* * * * * * *

This morning I found her curled up in her litterbox.

There was a mess on the floor outside the litterbox, which had also gotten on the nearby pillow which serves as her bed these days. These things happen, and cleaning it up could wait.

I picked her up, brushed the litter from her fur. She purred lightly as I held her close to my chest.

I took her in to see if she was tempted by food or drink. She was too weak to stand and try to drink on her own. I held her steady, she lapped a little water. Food wasn’t of any interest.

This is how it has gone most of the week, her getting weaker and weaker, but not in any evident pain.

I sat, leaned back, holding her. Her purr got stronger for a while, then she slept.

This may be no time for a crisis. But she doesn’t know that.

She only knows comfort, and love.

That’s what matters.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the HFY blog.)

Doesn’t break my heart.
October 18, 2011, 12:46 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Failure, Predictions, Promotion, Publishing, Writing stuff

As I’ve said before, traditional publishing is essentially broken. My experiences with working with a small independent publisher to get Communion of Dreams to press, and having that go screwy only confirm my thoughts on the matter. Certainly, the process of trying to find a publisher for CoD and then a year ago for Her Final Year haven’t changed my mind at all.

So it doesn’t break my heart to read an article like this:

Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal

SEATTLE — has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers.

Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.

* * *

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

Her Final Year hasn’t yet found the audience I expected it would. Maybe it never will. Maybe it would with a major publishing house behind it. Maybe we’ll just get lucky, and get some good word-of-mouth going on it (you can help, hint, hint…).

But regardless, Communion of Dreams (my novel) has been downloaded over 33,000 times in the last four years, and by any measure that’s an indication that there is an audience out there for it. Yet my years of trying to find a publisher for it have always ended in frustration – even after I had received an offer to publish it, as well as communications from several other publishers that they thought it was an excellent book, but ‘just not quite what we’re looking for…’

So yeah, forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for the traditional publishers, and whatever services they supposedly provided. Self-publishing is the new reality. If Amazon wants to tie into that with a new model for publishing, then good – it can’t be any worse than the way things don’t work now.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the Her Final Year blog.)

“…and a time to every purpose…”
October 17, 2011, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Art, Failure, Gardening, Predictions, Publishing, Writing stuff

Six years ago I wrote the following for my newspaper column:

This is the heavy harvest time for my garden. I’ve been bringing in 20-plus pounds of tomatoes daily: sweet golden tomatoes that make a perfect sauce, meaty Romas great for salsa or drying, Celebrity and Brandywine tomatoes chopped up and canned for enjoyment later. I’ve also got bell peppers warming to red, brilliant Cayennes for a little spice, and hot hot hot Habaneros to roast and use in sauces to shake off winter’s deepest chill. All thanks to the extra time and work I put in this spring, prepping the ground, selecting plants, laying the soaker hoses, putting down a thick mat of straw to retain moisture and keep out weeds.

I was reminded of this passage this morning as I harvested what could well be the last tomatoes of this season. It’s been a late harvest this year, delayed by a very wet early summer, but the fall has stayed warm long enough that in the last few days I’ve brought in over 100 pounds of just beautiful tomatoes. They now cover the kitchen counter two deep, and I have already cooked up about two gallons of thick sauce. Friends will come by over the next day or two to collect a portion, and my good lady wife and I are gorging ourselves on them, enjoying fresh, flavorful tomatoes while they’re here.

* * * * * * *

The subject of that column, Naoma Powell, is still alive, though her fall season is now also coming to a close. We recently attended a special event honoring her and the program she nurtured for so long. Naoma was able to attend for a while, happy to be surrounded by those who still love and respect her, even if she was no longer sure who they were.

It was a well attended event, and I was surprised by how many of the people I knew. My roots into the arts community here are still deep, even after long years of neglect. I closed the gallery over 7 years ago, and stopped writing my column on the arts at the end of 2006, when the demands of care-giving for Martha Sr because such that I could no longer reliably maintain involvement with the community.

I’m not thinking of opening another gallery or anything like that. Legacy Art was a good experience on the whole, though the financial losses were quite painful. For a long time I carried a bitterness over the difference between what people professed (supporting the arts) and what they actually did (not opening their wallets to actually buy art). But that bitterness has mellowed, perhaps ripened.

* * * * * * *

You know how when you try a new tomato varietal, you can’t be entirely sure what you’re getting yourself in for? I mean, yeah, it’s a tomato, and will fall within a certain range of flavor profiles. But a Lemon Boy tomato tastes completely differently than a Brandywine does. You just have to dive in and try it, savoring it for what it is rather than what you expect it to be.

One variety I tried growing this year is like that: “Black Prince” It has a dark, earthy flavor I didn’t really expect. But I have come to enjoy it a great deal for what it is, and the plants are doing quite well this late in the season.

Expectations are like that. I expected that our book would be a lot more popular than what it has turned out to be. For a while I was again bitter at the disappointment, feeling that I had made the same mistake that I had made previously with the gallery, believing what people professed rather than what they actually did.

But the truth is, you can’t know what people are going to do, until they do it. All you can do is plan, and prepare, tend your garden to the best of your ability. And then hope that the weather favors you, and that the harvest, when it comes, brings something you enjoy.

Jim Downey

Cross posted from the HFY blog.

Without art, …
October 14, 2011, 10:21 am
Filed under: Art, Science, tech

I’ve always loved Tery Fugate-Wilcox’s phrase “Without art, we are but monkeys with car keys.”

And it looks like you can push that differentiation back a lot further than we previously thought:

Ancient ‘paint factory’ unearthed

The kits used by humans 100,000 years ago to make paint have been found at the famous archaeological site of Blombos Cave in South Africa.

The hoard includes red and yellow pigments, shell containers, and the grinding cobbles and bone spatulas to work up a paste – everything an ancient artist might need in their workshop.

This extraordinary discovery is reported in the journal Science.

It is proof, say researchers, of our early ancestors’ complexity of thought.

“This is significant because it is pushing back the boundaries of our understanding of when Homo sapiens – people like us – first became modern,” said Prof Christopher Henshilwood from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

There has been other evidence of early human art, shell jewelry and carvings which date back almost as far. But this latest discovery shows a level of planning and preparation which clearly indicate complex thought – it is the difference between a toddler picking up a rock and marking a wall and someone finding just the right rock, crushing it, adding in several other quite different but necessary ingredients in the proper proportions, mixing them all together in order to make a paint with which to mark the same wall.


Jim Downey

To a Mouse.*

A good friend was visiting last weekend. We see each other fairly often, communicate regularly. But there are things best discussed in person.

“How’s your mom doing?”

“Not bad. I think we’re getting to the point where we need to have that conversation about her driving.”

“Ah. That’s a hard one.”

“Yeah. But my sister largely drives her everywhere as it is, anyway. So that will make it easier.”

* * * * * * *

I mentioned a week ago that I was surprised that Her Final Year hasn’t done better.

Well, I had been waiting for a couple of additional pieces to appear in different publications in the hopes that would spur awareness of the book, as well as sales. One of those being my college alumni magazine. Yesterday I saw that they had posted the Fall 2011 issue as a .pdf on their website, so I took a look.

It’s a blurb, not a review. You can find it at the bottom of page 39, if you want. Next to another book blurb, and one of about a dozen in this issue. My fellow alumni are intelligent, accomplished people.

* * * * * * *

After discovering that, I went out to pick tomatoes from my garden. The very wet summer we had meant that there was a big delay in a bunch of the tomato plants blooming and setting fruit. But I am lucky, since many people I know have had a horrible year for tomatoes, while mine were just delayed.

I was able to pick about 25 pounds of tomatoes, a nice mix of Lemon Boy and Brandywine and Black Prince and Better Boy. Most look great, have a wonderful taste. We had some with BLTs last night for dinner, and I made up two quarts of sauce from the ones with slight blemishes. I’ll probably go ahead and can or sauce the rest in the next day or two.

But I didn’t get to picking them for about two hours, because first I had to completely re-do the netting around the garden (about 40×50). Deer had gotten in, then tore the hell out of everything getting out.

Yeah, they munched on the tomato plants, and that was annoying. But they also ate the tops out of my habanero plants. Well, not all of them. Just the ones which had done the best.

See, as bad as the summer was on tomatoes, it was worse on the habaneros. They just started setting fruit a couple of weeks ago. And it was a race to see whether any of the pods ripened fully before I leave for New Zealand.

Now I doubt whether any of the pods will ripen. Oh, the deer stayed away from the fruit. But with the bulk of the leaves eaten out of the top, I don’t know whether they can ripen. We’ll see.

* * * * * * *

A dear friend used to always say “Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. Plan as if you will live forever.”

She passed away over 20 years ago from breast cancer.

* * * * * * *

“Still, once you tell her that she has to stop driving, things change.”

“I know.” He looked at me. “I got copies of your book for all four of my siblings. Told them to read it.”


“No, thank you – I don’t think any of them have really thought through how this is likely to go with Mom.”

“Every experience is different.”

“Yeah, but at least having *some* idea of what to plan for, what to watch for, will help.”

Jim Downey

*from this. Cross posted to the HFY blog.

The Nostromo: A Restoration Project.
October 9, 2011, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, MetaFilter, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, tech, YouTube

This afternoon I’ll probably get a new leather cover onto a nice 1512 binding I am restoring for a client. It’s a small book, and the process is almost identical to what you can see in this very similar project. But I had to take a moment and pass along a *really* cool restoration project:

Yeah, that’s about the restoration of the Nostromo, from Ridley Scott’s brilliant Alien. Full information and more images here. Check it out.

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.

What’s valued.
October 4, 2011, 9:44 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Art, Ballistics, Guns, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Society, Writing stuff

As a side-line, I’m a writer for Mostly what are called ‘features’ but are actually akin to a newspaper column, plus some reviews and other things now and again. I generally write about one piece a week. It’s fun, they let me write about just anything I want, and I like the discipline of sitting down to write a column of a specific length and focus as I did when I was writing about the arts for my local paper. It doesn’t pay much, but for the approximately 20,000 words I’ve written for them this year, I’ve made over a thousand dollars. And I’m told by my editor that I’m considered one of the best and most popular writers for the site, but that could just be blowing smoke. Regardless, I know that thousands of people see almost everything I write there, and the direct feedback I get is very positive. I consider the hour or two I put into writing each article to be time well spent.

So far this month we haven’t sold any copies of Her Final Year. Last month we sold 11. All told, we’ve sold about 30. That’s about 10% of what we need to sell just to break even on out-of-pocket expenses.

I’m honestly surprised by this. Oh, I know that it takes time for word to get around, that times are tight for people. Et cetera. But by about this point in time, my novel had been downloaded over 2,000 times (currently the total is well over 30,000 downloads). And that launched with less of a promotional effort than we put behind HFY, without the supporting structures of social media and forums dedicated to care-giving.

Granted, Communion of Dreams is free. But it is also just an e-book. You can’t (yet) get a paperback copy of it to keep, or to give as a gift. And while I think that it is well written, Her Final Year is a much better and more powerful book.

This isn’t meant to be a “woe is me, please buy my book” plea. Rather, it is just an observation on what is valued by our culture. Writing about firearms is. I get paid for that, and know that it is well received. Writing fiction is. Word of my novel spread widely, and it remains popular (some 636 people downloaded it last month.) Even writing about the arts was valued – my newspaper columns generated a little income, and were once again fairly popular.

Writing about care-giving? Not so much, it seems. I wonder why that is.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted from the HFY blog.)