Communion Of Dreams

Writing is a process of discovery …

It’s an annual ritual. Salvaging what I can of the deer netting, pulling up the long lengths of rebar which pin the support towers in place, packing up chickenwire. While it wasn’t as good a year as it could have been, it was a better year than I thought it would be, and I hope that the next year to come will be even better yet.

* * *

This is good. Relevant excerpt:

You know what writers feel like when they’re not writing?

Guilty. Incredibly guilty.


They don’t need anyone to come by and kick them while they’re lying there, writhing in the seventh circle of hell, telling them, “Oh, remember those ten books and multiple short stories you wrote? Well, sorry, you stopped writing for a year so none of that counts. You’re no longer a writer.”

* * *

We live in a disposable world. Disposable electronics (when was the last time you tried to fix a tablet, laptop, or television?). Disposable water bottles. Disposable people.

Last week, I did this:



That is, I detached the deer netting I had put on my tomato towers, folded it up, secured it, and stowed it away to reuse next year.

This, actually, was a stupid thing to do. That’s about $20 bucks of deer netting. It took me about 90 minutes to salvage it. The amount of my time (in terms of billable hours) which went into doing that is literally 10x the value of the netting I saved. Stupid.

I don’t mention this to tout how environmental, enlightened, or noble I am. None of those things explains why I did what I did.

Well, OK, I try to be environmentally conscious. But I’m not fanatic about it.

No, I did that because in this instance it wasn’t about economics. Gardening, in purely economic terms, is fairly dumb. I don’t do it to save money. I do it to save my sanity.

* * *

By nature and profession, I save old things. It’s just part of my life. And I’m good at it.

Now, that deer netting above isn’t old, or valuable. And how does spending 90 minutes on a weekday morning fiddling around with rusty twist ties and uncooperative lightweight netting save my sanity?

Well, because it gives me time to think.

And thinking is how I spend the vast majority of my time & energy writing.

* * *

It’s an annual ritual. Salvaging what I can of the deer netting, pulling up the long lengths of rebar which pin the support towers in place, packing up chickenwire. While it wasn’t as good a year as it could have been, it was a better year than I thought it would be, and I hope that the next year to come will be even better yet.

Yeah, I’m talking about my garden. But I’m also talking about St Cybi’s Well.

I should have been finished with the book two years ago, according to my Kickstarter plan and promises. Hell, even at that point, I thought I would be done with the manuscript early in 2013.

But writing is a process of discovery. Self discovery. I knew this, but having it driven home during the last couple of years has been … sobering.

Other than periods when I’ve struggled to sort out some particular issue with the book, I haven’t suffered the writer’s block which J.H. Moncrieff discusses in her blog post linked above. But upon occasion my writing has made me feel miserable. And guilty.

Part of that is just a sense of failure because I grossly misunderstood what it was going to take to finish this book. Yeah, I’m talking about the time & energy commitment. But I’m also talking about the psychological challenge of writing a book about the onset of the end of the world we know. Thinking through the details of that takes a toll.

Recently I asked an old friend to read the book so far, and give me feedback. As I told him, I have been so deep in this thing that I had lost my bearings — I could no longer tell whether the thing was any good or not. And that was true.

But the deeper truth was that I could no longer tell whether I was any good or not as a writer.

He says it is. We’ll see if I am.


Jim Downey


It’s October! That must mean it’s time for …

… more House Horrors!

OK, this time it’s not nearly as bad as it was last year. But nonetheless, I don’t think this is exactly what most people mean when they talk about having a “green roof“:


Yeah, probably a safe bet.

So, this is the small roof of an unused porch on the front west of our house, which is a “Notable Historic Structure“ built by the first dean of the MU medical school in 1883. We’re fairly sure that this porch used to be a separate entrance for the dean’s private office/surgery, which is now our living room. At some point the door was closed off and turned into window, so now the porch is purely decorative and out of the way. As such, it tends to not get a lot of attention … including, unfortunately, maintenance.

But I was doing some other work up on the roof, and noticed that this small porch was to a point where it really needed some work. Eventually we’ll replace the steps and perhaps the floor of the porch, but first we needed to do some roof repairs.

Originally, this porch just had a sheet metal roof, over 1″ thick decking. But when the sheet metal started leaking, applications of roofing tar were applied in an effort seal the leaks. And for more than 100 years, that’s the only attention that it got. With the result that there was dried (and cracking/leaking) tar almost an inch thick in place over the whole small roof (it’s about 4’x8′).

To repair it was straight-forward: remove the old dried tar, repair the sheet metal as necessary, and then put down an appropriate proper flat roof.

To see that process, follow me below the fold:

Continue reading

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha …
April 20, 2015, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Brave New World, Failure, Feedback, Humor, Predictions, tech | Tags: , , , ,

Damn, I just can’t stop laughing over this. It is so painfully true.


Jim Downey


“We’re here at the 2023 SXSW tech gala, where tonight’s featured speaker and guest of honor is Ieuan Wyn Morgan, the famous Welsh technology innovator who turned a failing personal products company into one of the industrial wonders of the modern era in just two years.” The stylishly scruffy stringer glanced back over his shoulder to the main stage, where an empty podium stood towering over the sea of black-tie diners. “Our followers will know the story of Morgan, who first developed his nano-lubricant for use with adult toys and prophylactics. But the product proved to be just too good; it didn’t allow for sufficient friction for personal pleasure.”

The man looked back to the camera. “Dejected, with his patents aging and sales flagging, Morgan was sitting at home drinking, trying to watch a movie and forget his troubles as his son kept riding around and around the couch on his little retro tricycle, one of the wheels squeaking. The grating sound was just about to cause him to explode with rage when inspiration hit. He quickly ran to his bedroom, retrieved a bottle of Lwb, and then applied a couple of drops to the wheel in question.”

“The rest is history. Lwb proved to be the perfect industrial lubricant, an essentially frictionless, non-petroleum product. It is estimated that in the first year alone, Lwb reduced worldwide energy consumption by 3.7% …”



Jim Downey

“You always – always – fail.”

Gods, this is so painfully, penetratingly accurate: You think writing’s a dream job? It’s more like a horror film.

Just one excerpt:

However, as I emphasise to the fledgling writers who come and attend my Guardian Masterclass courses, writing novels for a living is hard – unimaginably hard, for those who have not tried it. I cannot imagine that it is less complex than brain surgery, or, indeed, the proverbial rocket science. To master dialogue, description, subtext, plot, structure, character, time, point of view, beginnings, endings, theme and much besides is a Herculean labour, not made more appealing by the fact that you always – always – fail.

And as I noted the other day, the knowledge that you are failing never leaves you, and it is only then that self-confidence can get you though. Maybe.

But Chapter 12 has been finished and put to bed. Now working on revisions for the rest of the story arc before getting into the next chapter.


Jim Downey


This news: Harrison Ford To Star In ‘Blade Runner 2’

strikes me as a supremely bad idea, exactly for this reason:

Moreover, Alien was just the first of many films. Blade Runner—based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep—is a stand-alone film, and one shrouded in mystery. It’s one of those films that could be talked about forever without ever reaching a solid conclusion about its meaning or its murky ending. That’s part of what makes it a classic.

Sheesh, Ridley, just leave well enough alone for a change.


Jim Downey

Knowing when to walk away.

The summer before this past one I almost lost my wife to appendicitis.

All my adult life I have known that sudden, unexpected death can strike those we love. And I have tried to live my life accordingly.

The flip side of that, of course, is that I know I could die suddenly, as well. And while I have done a number of crazy and stupid things, I’ve always tried to keep an eye on the real risks involved. It’s not smart to lose track of the fact that you’re mortal.

But being there in the hospital with my wife, as she recovered from an emergency appendectomy, reflection on my own mortality took a slightly different direction. Rather than just thinking about what I had accomplished, and whether it had been a full life, I got to thinking about what I had to offer. And one thing I started thinking about was that I had accumulated a lot of very specific experience which was fairly rare: my book conservation skills.

Now, there are some really good schools out there to train conservators. As well as professional organizations, and workshops and all the sorts of things you would expect. But not a lot. Certainly not enough to meet the need for trained conservators; a need which will only continue to grow as more and more books and articles are published only in electronic format, and the current inventory of printed material starts to age and grow fragile.

Since I have been in private practice as a conservator for 20+ years, I haven’t done a lot of just low-level routine repairs. Rather, I’ve worked on the more valuable items from both private and public collections — the sorts of things which individuals and institutions felt it was worth paying me for my expertise. In other words, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on the cream of the crop from multiple collections, as it were, which has given me the opportunity to further hone a wide range of techniques and demanded that I do my very best by the books and documents entrusted to my care. And with that experience came judgment about what techniques are appropriate in what cases, what will work and what won’t. Judgment which often isn’t even conscious, but lives in my fingertips and can only be shared by close example and repetition.

That’s what I have to offer. And that’s what would be lost were I to die suddenly.

That’s what I got to thinking.

As luck would have it, about the same time I started working with an old acquaintance who had developed an interest in medieval bookbinding. He doesn’t live close, so we had to discuss things online and over the phone, with his coming to visit for weekend training now and then. Because *nothing* compares to hands-on, face-to-face training.

And working with him reminded me of how much I enjoy sharing my skills and love for my craft. Oh, I’ve taught plenty of bookbinding classes over the years, and that has been enjoyable. But there is nothing like working with a student who shares my intense passion for caring for historical texts, rather than someone who just wants to make some blank books for Christmas gifts or needs to have another example for their arts portfolio.

So I got to thinking of how I could find another mechanism to share my skills with people who already share my passion. And I decided to sound out a local institution about perhaps training some of their staff (many large libraries and archives have one or a few preservation technicians, who do the valuable basic repair work on the collection). I knew that while the budget environment wasn’t good, there might be a way for us to work out an arrangement for long-term, careful training in depth of some of their staff, allowing me to transfer both specific skills but more importantly nuances in judgment through hands-on work of items in their collection.

The institution was certainly receptive, and for a while we worked hard to see how to bring my initial thoughts into reality within their system.  Meetings were held, brain-storming sessions conducted. Lots and lots of meetings, involving lots of different people and departments, different budget lines and facilities. The prospects were very promising, and I was very excited about the possibilities to begin a new phase of my book conservation career, teaching others part-time. But ultimately the bureaucracy proved too hard to overcome; rather than starting a long-term, fairly permanent training program, the bureaucracy could only accommodate a temporary ‘pilot’ program within its usual rules and guidelines for professional development.

And here is where the title of this post comes into play: knowing when to walk away.

Because when all was said and done, there was a chance … but only a chance … that the temporary pilot program teaching two or three people might find a home (and funding) within the institution. Maybe.

What should I do?

I considered and consulted with some close friends. After all the discussions, after all the meetings and brainstorming, I was deeply vested in seeing this work out.

But I had to take a step back and think about my initial goals, and rationally assess whether or not this would accomplish what I wanted. I decided that it didn’t — that I would be committing too much time and energy to trying to meet the needs of the bureaucracy rather than my own needs, and that I would have too little control over what I could teach.

I can’t blame the bureaucracy; it exists for a reason. Trying to change it, to get it to do something unique and risky, was probably a fools errand from the start.

So, failure.


There’s more than one way to skin a cat, though. The bureaucracy at the institution in question, as well as the bureaucracy at many such institutions, is already set up to handle another version of training for their staff: specific workshops conducted by outside consultants, lasting from a few hours to a few days.

So that’s what I am going to do. In the next couple of months I will put together the initial offerings of training workshops for specific conservation techniques. All will have detailed descriptions of what the workshop will include. All will include plenty of hands-on practice under close supervision. All will be completely modular, so that any institution can select from the menu of offered workshops without being committed to other workshops.

I may not be able to do in-depth training of a small number of people, but I can share my skills and judgment with a much wider selection of institutions. It’ll be a lot more work on my part, but will hopefully also accomplish more.

We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted as to developments as things happen.


Jim Downey


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