Communion Of Dreams

Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.*

“Well, I’d hate for you to have a heart attack,” said my doctor. She was standing against the wall in the small exam room, arms folded in a classic body language message of being skeptical about what I had just said.

* * * * * * *

I wrote this in September 2007:

And as I stood there at the sink, washing the dishes, thinking favorably on the option of having a heart attack, it sunk in that I was done. I mean, I’d been considering that a heart attack might be the best solution to my problems. Yeah, a heart attack. Hell, at 49, I’d probably survive it. It’d come as no surprise to anyone, given the kind of physiological and psychological stress I’m under. No one could blame me for no longer being a care-provider for someone with Alzheimer’s. Hey, it might even get someone to think about noticing my writing, since a tragic character (whether alive or dead) always gets more notice as an artist than does someone who has their life, and their shit, together.

That was a few months before our care-giving journey ended, and Martha Sr passed away. For those who don’t know the story, I was able to re-center, and continue with my role as a care-provider the next day. The following year was spent recovering from the stresses of that role, and getting my shit back together. Because in spite of the perspective indicated in the final sentence of the passage above, my hold on things wasn’t nearly as solid as I thought at the time.

Such is often the case. I think it’s a defense mechanism, with more than a little toxic-masculinity.

* * * * * * *

Did I say toxic-masculinity? Why yes, I did. Such as in this timely article:

Men, in short, are less likely to seek preventive care than women and more likely to put off seeing a doctor when in need of medical care. They also prefer to seek out male doctors, but they tend to underreport pain and injuries to male doctors, thereby compromising the chances of receiving optimal care. And all of this, it should be said, is particularly true among those men who prescribe to masculine ideologies.

“Masculine men tend to not go to the doctor, and when they do, they tend to pick male doctors whom they then underreport their ailments to,” Sanchez said.

* * * * * * *

We recently had a change in our financial situation, thanks to the sale of some property we owned. That, combined with the protections of the ACA which mean you can’t be as easily penalized for a pre-existing condition, made it a lot easier for me to make the decision to having something checked by my doctor.

Howso? Well, our income has never been huge. In fact, it’s always been pretty modest, though in recent years it has gotten better and become more stable. But still, if I had something turn up which required me to miss a significant period of work, or which came with a large insurance co-pay for treatment, we would have lost what progress we had made. And not having to worry about having a documented ‘serious health issue’ mess up my insurance coverage in the future is a huge relief.

In other words, I’m financially stable enough to get sick. Hell of a system, isn’t it?

* * * * * * *

“Well, I’d hate for you to have a heart attack,” said my doctor. She was standing against the wall in the small exam room, arms folded in a classic body language message of being skeptical about what I had just said.

Which was that I was reluctant to go see any medical specialist, since the way the system works it’s almost guaranteed that they would find something which needed ‘treatment’. After all, none of us are walking perfect models of health. And, as the old adage goes, never ask a barber if you need a haircut.

But I nodded my head, sitting there on the exam table.  I had my shirt back on after they had done the in-office EKG, which showed that everything at present was OK, but that there were possible indications of problems in the recent past. And the very mild symptoms I had recently were possibly indicative of a coronary arterial blockage, and it runs in my family on my father’s side. “Yeah, me too. OK, go ahead and book me for a stress test.”

She nodded, we chatted some more, and she left.

I had the stress test last Friday. Got the call with the results yesterday.

No complete blockages. But some constrictions which need to be addressed. So yeah, sometime soon I’ll be seeing a cardiologist, and we’ll discuss options from there.

It’s not good news. But it’s not horrid news. After all, this is one of the most common medical problems around the world. So we’ll see what happens.

But I’m glad that I’m lucky enough to be in a position to have it found, treated (to whatever extent possible), and not worry about it completely ruining our financial situation. And I’m also glad that I’m not quite macho enough to think that I should ignore the classic symptoms, as mild as they were.


Jim Downey

*Of course.

PS: if you feel the need to post a political comment related to the ACA … don’t. I’ll just delete it.

Living in the past.*

Can you recognize what is depicted in these illustrations?





They’re different types of set-ups for using alembics. All taken from a 1563 German language botanical text I started work on this afternoon. The client has asked me to document the conservation work as I go along, so at some point I’ll probably put up a post about the whole process. But for now I just thought I’d share those.


Jim Downey

*With apologies.

Listen to the voices.
March 16, 2015, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Music, Writing stuff | Tags: , , , ,

It’s been a surprisingly long time. Sorry about that. Nothing to worry about. Mostly just life intervening; a pile-up of other projects needing my focused attention, an annoying but non-serious respiratory virus took the wind out of my sails. But there was something else, which I thought I’d share.

After finishing Chapter 12 of St Cybi’s Well, as I was looking forward to the rest of the story arc, and the outlines and notes I had made, I realized that I had reached the point where I needed to make some major revisions before I could continue. My plans for the rest of the book had become too at-odds with what the actual book was turning out to be.

For those who haven’t attempted a book-length work of fiction, this sort of thing happens. It’s not cause for panic. If you read/hear/watch author interviews, you’ll often come across the notion that stories and characters seem to ‘come to life’ for an author, who is then in the position of having to negotiate between what is happening on the page and what they intended. It’s a bit like being in a marriage (or a similar long-term relationship of any variety). If you’re smart, you learn how to sing that duet, share your voice to make something greater. You don’t entirely give up your vision of what you want to say with your story and characters, but you can’t be so insistent on that original vision that you lose the potentially interesting developments which occur naturally as part of the writing process. You’re telling a story, not writing an instruction manual. And stories don’t come from just within ourselves — they’re part of the larger human tapestry.

So, anyway. I went back, cut out about 2/3 of the original “Prelude”, made a number of other substantial edits to the chapters I’ve already written. And I’m adding in an “Interlude” between Chapters 6 and 7. There will be another “Interlude” to come between chapters later in the book, and then a “Coda” of sorts when the story is closed. Because I’ve learned to listen to the other voices on the page.

Back to it.


Jim Downey


Duuun dun duuun dun …*

I can’t help but hear the Jaws theme when I read something like this:

But this is all great news for astronomers: KKs 3 is a relic, so isolated and old it probably hasn’t changed much in a long, long time. Studying it is like having a time machine to study the ancient Universe. And we think that, billions of years ago, collisions between small galaxies like KKs 3 are what built up much larger galaxies. We know that the Milky Way is currently eating a few other small galaxies, so we can study those events and compare them to what we see in KKs 3 to learn more about how this process may have occurred so far in the past.

There’s a thought for you — galaxies as living entities, with the big ones as predators hunting smaller ones …

400 downloads of Communion of Dreams so far this weekend! The Kindle edition remains free through today, if you know someone who might like to have it.


Jim Downey

*Credit here, though it has been pretty widely transcribed that way in the last 40 years.


Two visions.

This wonderful vision of the human future has been making the rounds recently, and I had to share it:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

A somewhat more … cautionary … vision of what the future could hold can be found in this:

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down in 1986, creating a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone that has been almost completely devoid of human interference for decades. Now you can take a tour, courtesy of a camera-carrying drone.


Mutually exclusive? Apocalypse versus brave new worlds?

I think not. In fact, the Communion of Dreams/St Cybi’s Well ‘universe’ contains both. If I ever decide to write them, I have books set in the 2020s, about 15 years following the fire-flu pandemic, and in the 2030s in the Israeli colonies on the Moon. In the first the world will feel much like what’s seen in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And in the second I’ve envisioned how the 1/6th Earth-normal gravity would allow for playing something very much like Quiddich on small personal flyers in large domed stadiums.

It’s important to remember that the future isn’t either/or. It’s even more important to remember that we will have a role in creating that future, for good or ill.


Jim Downey

It’s a gas, gas, gas!*

It’s Habanero season again!

I noted a few weeks back that I had harvested the first of this year’s crop, and that I thought that things looked promising, if the weather held. Well, all together I harvested about 200 fully-ripe peppers, seeding freezing them in small batches, and I’ll make some of my Habanero Sriracha with that later. But last Friday we had the first hard freeze of the season, so I picked all the rest of the remaining fruit off the plants. Here’s a the pic of that:


Now, since turning whole peppers into hot sauce is the sort of thing which can drive any sane person out of the house, I waited until today to do this year’s production. Why? Because my wife is a poll worker, and so is gone all day. Well, here’s that exact same box of peppers, which had just been closed up since Friday:


Fun, eh? Welcome to ethylene gas. Yup, the peppers are a LOT more ripe, just from being shut up for a few days. Not as ripe as last year’s end-of-season harvest, but not bad at all. And since my version of Sriracha is fairly sweet, I decided to make a less sweet batch of sauce out of the above, since it will tend to accentuate the citric qualities of the not-entirely-ripe peppers. So, here’s this year’s recipe:

  • Approximately 335 peppers, crown removed and cut in half
  • Not quite a gallon of natural apple cider vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons of Kosher salt
  • 3 heads of garlic
  • 2 large yellow onions, rough chopped

Prepare all ingredients. Saute onions and garlic until soft. Add vinegar, salt and peppers to 5 gallon stock pot, simmer until soft, stirring often.

Scoop into blender, do a rough blend for 15 – 20 seconds. Then pour into Foley food mill, and crank until just seeds and skins are left.  Transfer to jar, can.


Edited to add later:  Total of 22.5 half pints. Which works out to about 2 habaneroes per fluid ounce, which is what my standard ‘Evil Green’ (previously my hottest sauce) runs, except that this has a much higher % of fully or mostly ripe habs.And this is clearly hotter than anything else I’ve ever made. Pic below – need a good name for it. It’s the one on the right, the reddish one is my Sriracha (about the color of tomato sauce) for comparison.


Jim Downey

*With apologies.

“Welcome to Wales”

More than ten years ago I wrote the first version of what is now the opening page of St Cybi’s Well:

Darnell Sidwell had just crossed the Severn Bridge on the M4, heading west.  He read the highway sign:

Sound Sculpture Ahead.  Move to outer left lane, maintain speed of 70 kph.  

He pulled the little GM rental hybrid into the left lane carefully, and thought about setting the cruise control, but was unsure where to find it on the unfamiliar vehicle. The car crossed the first warning rumble strips.  Darnell turned his attention to the sound of the tires, and a few moments later was treated to a long, drawn-out rumble over a series of carefully spaced and specially shaped strips, which distinctly said: “WWWWW-ELLL-CCCCOOOOOMMME-TOOOOO-WWWWWAAAALLLESSSS”.

Playing with rumble strips is nothing new (and wasn’t when I first came up with the idea mentioned on my archive site above), but it’s fun to see that it is now being used more in the way I envisioned:

The Singing Road of Tijeras

Sounds emanating from 1,300 feet of roadway just west of Tijeras have been listened to around the world, and it’s more than just tires on pavement catching international attention.

The Singing Road, installed last week, uses rumble strips to play “America the Beautiful” for drivers who obey the speed limit as they cruise down Route 66.

The National Geographic Channel approached the New Mexico Department of Transportation about the project last June, asking if they could construct the road for an upcoming series. The project was privately funded by National Geographic and NMDOT didn’t make – or spend – any money on it. Since the road was finished last week, Melissa Dosher, the public information officer for NMDOT, said she’s fielded questions from television stations as far away as Australia.

There’s a video (with sound) at the above site, so you can hear it. Fun stuff.


Jim Downey

HT to ML for the initial link last week.