Filed under: General Musings, Writing stuff, tech, Predictions, Science Fiction, Depression, Society, Connections, Book Conservation, Brave New World, Ray Bradbury, Discover, Science, Bipolar, Survival, Mars | Tags: jim downey, writing, blogging, technology, Science Fiction, space, science, predictions, Ray Bradbury, Mars, St. Cybi's Well, book conservation, Legacy Bookbindery, bookbinding, Martians, Chris Hadfield, The Martian Chronicles, Charles Lindbergh, Globe and Mail
Bradbury’s Mars offered unlimited new opportunity for exploration and discovery, and expansion of human awareness. Yet virtually every step in the Chronicles, as through much of human history, is a misstep. Mutual ignorance and distrust between normally peaceful peoples leads to violence and death. Greed causes unfathomably bad behavior; uncomfortably reminiscent of gold-hungry Conquistadors in the New World, ﬁve hundred years previous. Anger and frustration at the constraints of an intensely bureaucratic society somehow permit the craziest of personal behavior. And the ultimate threat of the destruction of it all somehow draws everyone back into the maelstrom, as if there is no escape. As if we all have a necessity to accept the consequences of everyone’s actions, and take our punishment, no matter how deadly.
Bradbury’s inclusion of the repeated patterns of human behavior, right down to inadvertent genocide caused by external pestilence and unfamiliar disease, makes The Martian Chronicles an ageless cautionary tale. It made me pause and ask myself – could it be possible that we are forever unable to go beyond who we were? Will every great opportunity of discovery be tainted, tarred and eventually destroyed by our own clumsy, brutish hand?
Are we so cursed by our own tragic humanity?
Wrestling with that very question … and depicting it … has been at the heart of my struggle to write St Cybi’s Well. And wrestling with my own demons at the same time has led me into some very dark moments, particularly over the last couple of months.
But there is hope. Here is the closing of Hadfield’s essay:
Their spaceship will be improbable, and the voyage will have been long. But as our ﬁrst emissaries thump down onto Mars, stand up and look around, they will see who the Martians really are. And with that sense of belonging will come the responsibility and appreciation that has allowed us to ﬂourish and grow on Earth for millennia, in spite of ourselves. By the time we land on Mars and ﬁrst step onto the dusty, red soil, it will be alien no longer. We will know that we are home. And that may be what saves us.
As chance would have it, yesterday I started working on another conservation project which, in its own way, also affirms how exploration may save us. You’ve probably heard of the author, who had his own struggles and failings. Here’s the title page:
Maybe there’s hope for all of ‘we’, after all.
Thanks to Margo Lynn for sharing the Hadfield essay.
Filed under: Art, Bipolar, Connections, Depression, Health, Predictions, Science, Slate | Tags: apophenia, art, bipolar, blogging, creative process, depression, health, jim downey, Katy Waldman, Lancaster University, medicine, mental health, Northwestern University, predictions, Rick Nauert, science, writing
Since this blog has recently picked up a bunch of additional followers, I’m going to reiterate something I’ve said in the past: I’m mildly bipolar. Have been all my adult life. My ‘natural’ bipolar cycle is about 18 months, though that can be influenced by outside factors. It’s mild enough that I’m able to manage my bipolar swings without medication, but I keep a close eye on it. I’m thankful that I can manage it without medication, because I have always perceived a connection between this bipolar condition and creativity.
And increasingly, science agrees with me:
Professor Steven Jones, co-director of Lancaster University’s Spectrum Centre, said, “It appears that the types of inspiration most related to bipolar vulnerability are those which are self-generated and linked with strong drive for success.
“Understanding more about inspiration is important because it is a key aspect of creativity which is highly associated with mental health problems, in particular bipolar disorder.”
“People with bipolar disorder highly value creativity as a positive aspect of their condition. This is relevant to clinicians, as people with bipolar disorder may be unwilling to engage with treatments and therapies which compromise their creativity.”
And then there’s this, from an article on apophenia:
Another possible culprit in apophenia is dopamine. A 2002 experiment revealed that people with high levels of dopamine more often extract meaning from coincidences than those with lower dopamine levels. And when self-described skeptics (team “UFOs are fake”) were given the drug L-dopa, which ups the brain’s dopamine supply, they began to perform more like self-described believers (team “I can speak to spirits”) on the same pattern-finding tasks. Likewise, when Brugger and his colleagues administered dopamine to a group of healthy adult men, that group proved more likely than a control group to notice visual similarities between random pairs of shapes.
Personal accounts from manic patients fizz with an almost compulsive meaning-making, but the research on connections between apophenia and bipolar disorder is thin. One clue: Just like people with schizotypal tendencies, people at risk for bipolar disorder often ace creativity tests. They seem to excel especially at the type of “intuitive, open-minded thinking” that results in surprising associations. (Though he hasn’t studied apophenia and bipolar disorder, Brugger says he would “assume that you see connections everywhere in a manic state.”) A symptom of mania known as clanging, in which ideas are strung together not in a logical order but because of how the words sound, has an apophenic aura.
Related, this news about another scientific discovery concerning depression:
The first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults has been developed by Northwestern Medicine scientists, a breakthrough approach that provides the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression. The test identifies depression by measuring the levels of nine RNA blood markers. RNA molecules are the messengers that interpret the DNA genetic code and carry out its instructions.
* * *
“This clearly indicates that you can have a blood-based laboratory test for depression, providing a scientific diagnosis in the same way someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol,” said Eva Redei, who developed the test and is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This test brings mental health diagnosis into the 21st century and offers the first personalized medicine approach to people suffering from depression.”
I suspect that it won’t be long until some similar test is developed for markers indicating bipolar condition.
Oops, there I go, drawing connections again …
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Bipolar, Book Conservation, Connections, Depression, Emergency, Failure, Feedback, Flu, Health, Kindle, NPR, Pandemic, Predictions, Preparedness, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, book conservation, bookbinding, Communion of Dreams, COPD, direct publishing, Ebola, feedback, Guinea, health, jim downey, Kindle, Liberia, Nigeria, NPR, predictions, reviews, science, Science Fiction, Sierra Leone, St. Cybi's Well, WHO, writing
For one reason and another, this past week has been a little rough, hence the paucity of posts. The rejection from the agent kinda took the wind out of my sails a bit, since I thought that the prospects were good. And continued news on the Ebola front* kept reminding me just how grim St Cybi’s Well is getting, in regards to the onset of the fire-flu (though I hope that other aspects of the novel more than balance that out for the reader).
But now the winds have shifted again, and things are looking up. We’ve gotten a bunch of bids in the auction to help my friend (though you can still pick up a hand-bound limited edition hardcopy of Communion of Dreams for a song). There’s a new review of CoD up on Amazon. And this morning I got word that a major new project I’ve been involved with helping to get organized is going to be implemented — more on that when there’s an official announcement in a couple of weeks. But it’s kinda a big deal and one which I am excited to be part of. Oh, and there’s a fun little item here about a recent book conservation job I did which might be of interest.
So, those are the latest developments. Watch for more to come. Oh, and go put a bid in on something on the auction site — there are a number of great items available! Thanks!
*I do want to note that I don’t think that Ebola poses a significant risk to people in the US. We have the medical infrastructure to deal with isolated cases, which is likely all that we’ll see here. There’s no reason to get into a panic. But that doesn’t change the horror of the disease itself, nor the impact that it is having on people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Argentina, Ballistics, Bipolar, Book Conservation, Connections, Depression, Failure, Gardening, General Musings, Guns, Health, Italy, New Zealand, Patagonia, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: Alwyn, Alzheimer's, Argentina, bipolar, blogging, book conservation, bookbinding, care-giving, Communion of Dreams, depression, direct publishing, feedback, gardening, guns, Habaneros, health, Her Final Year, hospice, Italy, jim downey, John Bourke, Legacy Bookbindery, literature, New Zealand, Patagonia, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing
This will probably come across as a little brag-y. Sorry about that. Not my intention.
The other day I got a phone call. For Legacy Art. The gallery we closed May 31, 2004. Yeah, more than ten years ago.
And after I got through abusing the telemarketer over this point, I got to thinking about the many changes in the last decade.
First thing I should say up front: I’m at a low point in my bipolar cycle, as I’ve noted recently. That means that my self-image isn’t all that great. This isn’t a debilitating depressive episode or anything — I’ve managed to continue to work steadily, as well as enjoy the usual aspects of life. So not horrid. But it is sometimes difficult to not focus on the things which haven’t gone well, and my own failings which are often a component of that. And one of those failings is a sense of not accomplishing much, of being lazy, of wasting my time and the time of others.
Anyway. I got to thinking about the changes in the last decade. And surprisingly, more positive things came to mind than negative ones. That fed on itself, and I found myself making a mental list of the accomplishments.
In no particular order or ranking: wrote two books (one of them as co-author). Most of the way done with another. Visited Wales. And Argentina. And New Zealand. And Italy. Wrote several thousand blog posts. Became something of an authority on small caliber ballistics. Wrote several hundred articles and columns for publication. Was the full-time caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. Have done conservation work on something more than a thousand (that’s just a guess … may be closer to two thousand) books and documents. Made some great hot sauces. Raised, loved, and then said farewell to a great dog. Tried to be a good friend, and husband. Tried to help others when I could.
We all fail. We all have things we’ve done that haunt us in one way or another. Sometimes, those fears and demons overwhelm. Me, at least.
I may or may not be at a turning point in my bipolar cycle. But I’m glad that at least I can think of things I have accomplished. That helps.
Back to work on St. Cybi’s Well.
Filed under: Bipolar, Connections, Feedback, General Musings, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: blogging, Call Me Ishmael, Communion of Dreams, feedback, Her Final Year, jim downey, literature, St. Cybi's Well, video, writing, www youtube
Interesting site/idea, though it would be a tough call to pick a book …
I’d be almost nervous to hear what someone might say about one of my books. But in spite of making solid progress with the writing of St Cybi’s Well, I seem to be at low ebb in terms of my self-confidence/bipolar cycle, so it might just be due to that.
Filed under: Bipolar, Connections, Failure, Feedback, NPR, Science Fiction, Scott Simon, Writing stuff | Tags: bipolar, blogging, Communion of Dreams, feedback, jim downey, literature, Marcel Theroux, NPR, Paul Theroux, Science Fiction, Scott Simon, St. Cybi's Well, Weekend Edition, writing
A good segment on this morning’s Weekend Edition Saturday with writer Marcel Theroux (son of Paul Theroux). I recommend the whole thing, but two particular bits stood out for me. The first is included on the ‘highlights’ page for the show:
I was trying to be as free as possible. I don’t really think about genre … to be honest. I find it constraining. And I know there’s a certain embarrassment about talking about science fiction in polite company, so some people prefer to call it “speculative fiction” instead.
And the second is my transcription from the actual interview (at about the 5:00 mark):
Anyone who has written a long work of fiction just knows that your mood goes up and down and at times it seems baffling and you feel that you should be doing something that is of value to the human race, not sitting on your own in a room churning out words. Or not churning out words.
Boy, howdy. I am happily churning out words at present, but sometimes it just feels so … self indulgent. And that doesn’t include the moments of complete panic that everyone will be disappointed in the prequel to Communion of Dreams because it isn’t science-fictiony enough or the writing isn’t any good or something.
Back to work. It’s all I can do.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Bipolar, Connections, Failure, Feedback, Health, Hospice, NPR, Preparedness, Science, Society, Writing stuff | Tags: All Things Considered, Alzheimer's, bipolar, blogging, Dark Playground, health, hospice, humor, jim downey, Morning Edition, NPR, predictions, procrastination, psychology, scarcity, science, Sendhil Mullainathan, St. Cybi's Well, Tim Wilson, Wait But Why, writing
OK, actually more like four. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta.
* * *
Interesting item on this morning’s Morning Edition, looking at a new book about how scarcity has a psychological impact which pushes people to make poor choices. The transcript isn’t up yet, so here’s just one passage from the interview with co-author Sendhil Mullainathan:
When you have scarcity and it creates a scarcity mindset, it leads you to take certain behaviors which in the short term help you manage scarcity, but in the long term only make matters worse.
Specifically, it’s a coping strategy: by setting aside some long-term problem, you actually have more time to deal with urgent short-term problems. This is a very normal human reaction, and actually even makes evolutionary sense — not getting eaten today is more important than where that glacier up the mountain will be next year.
I still remember a poster my Resident Advisor had up on her wall in college, which distilled this problem nicely. It said (with appropriate humorous graphic): “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s easy to forget that you came here to drain the swamp.”
* * *
I’ve … struggled … with procrastination all my life. Sometimes more successfully than at other times. It can manifest as lethargy. Or writer’s block. Or simple distraction.
And I learned a long, long time ago that that struggle was made worse when I was confronted with other stressors in my life. A bad bipolar cycle. Financial stress. Emotional stress. Simple lack of sufficient sleep. Just look back through my blog posts while we were doing care-giving for Martha Sr, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
So when I see someone come up with an interesting take on procrastination, I pay attention. Here’s a very good one:
In the monkey world, he’s got it all figured out—if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight—he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.
It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.*
The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.**
* * *
There was a great story yesterday afternoon on All Things Considered, about a little boy who was terrified by a statue of Frankenstein(‘s Monster). It was funny, charming, and insightful.
What insight? This one:
“Well, your nephew is a brilliant story editor,'” says psychologist Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia.
Wilson has been studying how small changes in a person’s own stories and memories can help with emotional health. He calls the process “story editing.” And he says that small tweaks in the interpretation of life events can reap huge benefits.
This process is essentially what happens during months, or years, of therapy. But Wilson has discovered ways you can change your story in only about 45 minutes.
* * *
There’s a second part to that item about procrastination I posted above (hence my ambivalence about whether this blog entry was about three things or four):
There’s only one way to truly beat procrastination:
You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to show yourself you can do it, not tell yourself. Things will change when you show yourself that they can. Until then, you won’t believe it, and nothing will change. Think of yourself like a basketball player on a cold streak. For basketball players, it’s all about confidence, and an ice cold shooter can tell himself 1000 times, “I’m a great shooter, I’m going to hit this next one,” but it’s not until he physically hits a shot that his confidence goes up and his touch comes back. So how do you start hitting shots?
* * *
3) Aim for slow, steady progress—Storylines are rewritten one page at a time.In the same way a great achievement happens unglorious brick by unglorious brick, a deeply-engrained habit like procrastination doesn’t change all at once, it changes one modest improvement at a time. Remember, this is all about showing yourself you can do it, so the key isn’t to be perfect, but to simply improve. The author who writes one page a day has written a book after a year. The procrastinator who gets slightly better every week is a totally changed person a year later.So don’t think about going from A to Z—just start with A to B. Change the Storyline from “I procrastinate on every hard task I do” to “Once a week, I do a hard task without procrastinating.” If you can do that, you’ve started a trend. I’m still a wretched procrastinator, but I’m definitely better than I was last year, so I feel hopeful about the future.
* * *
Wait — I said three things? Or maybe four?
I suppose it’s really only one, after all.
Time for me to get back to work.