Communion Of Dreams


Some conservation work on three 1611 volumes.

I’ve been on vacation – a nice break, a chance to get away and enjoy the wilds of northern Michigan for a while, visit with some old friends. Here’s what I was busy working on just before I left:

Look what came back from the conservator last week! These three volumes were in a sad state before repair; now they can actually be opened safely and will be stable enough to use for years to come.  Take a peek at how they looked before:

And how they turned out:

 

There are more images, good explanation of the work, and some nice comments on the post worth seeing. Take a look.

It’s usually valuable (though not always pleasant) to get the perspective of others on your work. In this case, I feel flattered.

Break’s over — back to work. :)

 

Jim Downey



Excerpt.

Part of a scene from the chapter I posted an excerpt from a week or so ago. Context: at this site, when news of a pandemic flu has just broken, and governments are attempting to stop its spread with a variety of travel restrictions. If you’ve read Communion of Dreams you may find a connection here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Darnell couldn’t help himself, he turned and looked at the monument as well. He knew that it was of modern origin, but it felt as though it were ancient, like the sacred standing stones found all over Wales. A dark grey granite, mottled across the surface. It wasn’t very wide, perhaps just a meter or so. It was four or five times as tall, with the upper portion like a smoothed-over pyramid.

“This is where hope died,” said a man’s voice beside him.

Darnell looked at the man. He was shorter than Darnell, about the same age. Wearing workman’s clothes, a simple flat-brimmed hat. “Then why come here? Why now?”

“I dunno,” said the man, shaking his head slightly. “I just felt … drawn here.”

Darnell nodded. “You’re local?”

“Yes, jus’ outside of town. Family farm.” The man looked at Darnell, seemed to make a decision. “Look, iff’n you need a place to stay … you know, for the time being … you can come an’ stay with my family.”

Darnell considered the man. “This isn’t where hope died. It still lives in you and all the decent people here.”

The man looked uncomfortable with this praise. “I dunno about that. But if you need a place …”

“I’ll be fine. But you – you and your family need to prepare. I know about these things – trust me on this. Hard times are coming, you may need to hunker down on your own for a while.”

The man shook his head. “No mister. If hard times are coming like you say, then we’ll all need each other that much more. You’re welcome to stay, if you don’t have someplace of your own to go to.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Jim Downey

 



Writer’s block.

A friend posted this little aphorism to my profile on Facebook:

Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.

My response:

Hmm. Pithy, but not sure I agree.

For me, being blocked isn’t about the technical stuff – dialog, description, understanding motivations. That’s all pretty straight-forward.

Rather, it tends to happen when I am trying to see the whole arc, and how a particular scene will fit into the developing narrative. There’s always a balance between knowing that you want to get from point A to point B on the ‘map’ of your story, and then working on the scene-by-scene movement. It’s been described as being like driving at night: you may know your destination a 100 miles away, but your headlights only illuminate the quarter-mile of the road ahead at a time. Being blocked is like having your headlights fail.

Jim Downey

Oh, and if you’re not at least following me or the Communion of Dreams page on Facebook … well, you should. I’m obviously brilliant and share a lot of interesting links and observations about the world there.  Just think of what you’re missing!  ;)



Just one problem …

She stood there before the large table at one end of the closed hanger. The whole space was brilliantly illuminated by the lights high overhead, but additional work lights illuminated the piece of debris on the table from several additional angles, so that there were almost no shadows cast. The white paint had been abraded. There were smudges of something like algae here and there.  Barnacles were clustered along joints, where they could get purchase either on the flaperon itself, or on other barnacles which had attached before them. There were even bits of seaweed, still drying.

“It looks fine to me. I mean, just what I would expect after more than a year in the ocean.”

“Yeah.”

“So, it’s from Flight MH370. What’s the problem? Why’d you call me in?”

The man handed her a clipboard containing a paper report. She took it, glanced at it. “I don’t read French. What’s it say?”

“Well, among other things, the barnacles are dead.”

“I guessed that from the smell.”

“Yeah, but what’s interesting is that the lab determined that the barnacles were more dead than they should be. I mean, they had been dead longer than expected.”

“Oh? Why? What killed them?”

He reached out, as if he were going to touch one with his gloved hand, then thought better of it. He continued to look at the encrustations. “Starved to death. Seems they couldn’t digest the plankton there off of Réunion.”

“Why not? That’s where the barnacles are from, aren’t they?”

“Yep. That’s exactly the type found there.” He turned to look at her again. “Just one problem: these barnacles can only digest left-handed proteins.”

She sighed, looked down at the clipboard out of habit, even though she knew she couldn’t read what was there. Then she looked back to the man. “Mirror lifeforms. Dammit.”

“Yeah.”

“And they promised — PROMISED — that this wouldn’t happen again! OK, I’ll alert the Council.”

“Thanks.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year will be available for free download all day tomorrow.

 

Jim Downey



A meditation on what isn’t there.

I finally got around to seeing this the other day, and I have been thinking about it ever since:

 

* * *

I first heard of Michael Heizer in a sculpture class in college, sometime in the late 1970s. Well, that I remember. It’s entirely possible that I had seen some coverage of his work in the press before then. But my professor got me thinking about how sculpture defined space both by physical presence and absence, and I know that it was then that I became aware of Heizer’s work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but his basic concepts would manifest in my life in many ways, showing up in my interests in martial arts, book design, even writing.

* * *

In the movie, John Bowsher (then the Project Manager for Levitated Mass at LACMA) says this:

His ideas are incredibly simple, when you pare it all down to just its physical nature, it’s really quite simple, and you see it again and again in his work. To achieve that degree of simplicity is like, almost the hardest thing in the world to do.

 

* * *

Not being there when your opponent strikes.

Drawing the eye to the empty space.

Allowing the reader to fill in the suggested, but missing, description.

Each of these engages and enlightens in ways that no amount of force, or color, or detail ever could.

 

* * *

Chrissie Iles, Curator at the Whitney Museum, talking about Heizer’s Double Negative in the movie:

Micheal Heizer makes you aware of space and your relationship to space and how you move through space,the role of the sky, the role of the land, beyond what you’re looking at. You have to rethink the nature of who you are physically in relation to what you are walking around inside and observing from a distance and up close.

 

* * *

We’re not always aware of what we do while we’re doing it, or why. Sometimes, the trajectory of a life is determined by little things, subtle things. Even things which are mssing.

 

* * *

I finally got around to seeing this the other day, and I have been thinking about it ever since:

Shortly after I had conceived of the idea behind Paint the Moon, I knew that it wasn’t actually feasible. But the idea delighted me. And after some thought, I realized why: it was taking the principles of Michael Heizer’s art — of paring down art to the very simplest, physical elements of experience — and going one step further. Remove the physical object altogether, and replace it with pure experience, pure concept. Hence my description of the project as a “collective lyric fantasy”.

You can’t see the artifact of that project at a museum. There is no massive boulder to walk under, or a negative space in the desert to encounter.

But there is the Moon overhead, and the memory of a moment in time.

 

Jim Downey



Promising developments.

It’s been seven and a half years since my mother-in-law passed away from Alzheimer’s. A couple years later, we published Her Final Year. Since then I have kept an eye on ongoing research concerning the disease, and have mentioned it here when I thought appropriate. This week, there are several new promising developments to come out of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.

First is a saliva test for metabolites which indicate brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. From this CNN article:

Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada analyzed saliva samples of fewer than 100 people, divided into three groups based on cognitive ability: 35 with normal aging cognition, 25 with mild cognitive impairment and 22 with Alzheimer’s disease.

Using protein analysis technology, researchers examined the saliva of each individual, analyzing nearly 6,000 metabolites, which are small molecules that are byproducts of chemical reactions in the brain.

The team then discovered specific biomarkers (or patterns of metabolites) in the groups with known Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment, in comparison with the natural aging group, and tested the biomarkers as predictors of cognitive performance.

It’s a very small study, but if additional research into this area bares out the results, this could be a quick and inexpensive screening tool to help determine who may be at risk for Alzheimer’s. Because, as discussed in a very good segment on the Diane Rehm show this morning, early detection helps even though there are limited treatment options for Alzheimer’s (and other age-related dementias). That’s because there are things you can do to prepare for managing the disease: establish necessary legal protections (things like family trusts and durable power of attorney), educate family members and caregivers, investigate daycare and assisted living options, participate in drug and treatment trials, and similar.

Speaking of drug and treatment trials, the Alzheimer’s Association has a very useful online tool for Alzheimer’s patients, care-providers, and family members:

About Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch®

Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch is a free, easy-to-use clinical studies matching service that connects individuals with Alzheimer’s, caregivers, healthy volunteers and physicians with current studies. Our continuously updated database of Alzheimer’s clinical trials includes more than 225 promising clinical studies being conducted at nearly 700 trials sites across the country.

This is just one of the new tools which have been made available since we cared for Martha Sr. Because in the last 7+ years, there has been a lot of research and a growing awareness that Alzheimer’s will touch nearly every family at some time.

One of the other pieces of information to come out of this week’s is that women seem to be more susceptible to the disease, and experience a faster decline in their mental abilities than men:

Study: Women with mild memory problem worsen faster than men

Older women with mild memory impairment worsened about twice as fast as men, researchers reported Tuesday, part of an effort to unravel why women are especially hard-hit by Alzheimer’s.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.

At age 65, seemingly healthy women have about a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives, compared with a 1 in 11 chance for men. Scientists once thought the disparity was just because women tend to live longer — but there’s increasing agreement that something else makes women more vulnerable.

 

There are a number of other factors which can have an impact on those numbers, of course. But even accounting for differences due to education, lifestyle, and social status, the discrepancy between men and women could not be accounted for. And having close family who had Alzheimer’s is a substantial risk factor, about doubling your chances of developing the disease. As is having any kind of major health crises requiring either hospitalization or surgery under general anesthesia.  In each and every case, men seem to fare better than women.

That may not seem to be a “promising development”, particularly if you are a woman in the high-risk category/categories. But it is, in the sense that scientists are now coming to understand the disease much, much better than they did just a decade ago. When we cared for Martha Sr, there really wasn’t a good diagnostic tool to determine whether or not someone had Alzheimer’s — it was a diagnosis confirmed postmortem. Now there are very good imaging tools available for amyloid plaque and tau protein, as detailed at the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

As I noted above, there are still very limited treatment and drug options, though even there some hopeful results have been reported at the Conference. But real progress has been made. Alzheimer’s no longer needs to be a devastating diagnosis, something to be feared and hidden. If you, or someone you love, is showing any signs of memory or cognitive impairment, seek help. It’s even possible that through participation in some of the clinical trials you can be part of the solution.

 

Jim Downey

PS: As noted previously, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year is available as a free download on the first of each month.



Excerpt.

It’s been a few months. Have another taste, from the chapter of St Cybi’s Well that I am currently writing (meaning that this is very much just a rough draft, subject to change or deletion). Links added for your amusement.

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“Here’s your fish,” said the girl as she placed the basket down in front of him. “Will ya be needin’ anything else, then?”

Darnell looked down at the golden planks of Haddock and the pile of chips. Then back to the girl. “I think that’ll do it. Thanks.”

She nodded, turned and went back through the small chippy, which was still mostly empty, it being before the usual lunchtime. Her amber hair bobbed as she walked, and that jogged a memory in him. The memory of a dream he had had the night before. He had stayed at a little inn not far from the River Severn in Gloucester, and had eaten in the small pub there. While he sipped his ale, waiting for his dinner, he had read about the history of the inn, and the legend of the river’s name. That legend had evidently fueled his dream.

It was a strange dream. A real dream, during real sleep, but with … echoes … of the ‘dream’ he had experienced earlier in the day at Stonehenge.

He was standing on a high hill, looking down at what must have been the Severn, watching the bore surge coming up the estuary. Just behind him was a great temple, classical in design and almost new, but empty save for himself and the old man. The air still held the fragrance of burnt herbs and offerings, banners and ribbons still fluttered from standards marking some kind of ritual path down the hill.

And there, on the bank of the estuary below, was a wide wooden platform, covered in a bright and colorful canopy. It had a score or more of people on it from what he could see, and they were looking down on something on a smaller, lower platform just above the level of the river. The tidal wave swept up the estuary, two meters or more high, and swept over the low platform as the people watched. As it did, there was the distant sound of horns and the deep thrumming of drums.

“That’s it. She’s gone,” said Eleazer, standing next to him, watching the scene below.

“She?”

Habren. The river has claimed her, and henceforth will carry her name as well as her spirit.”

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Jim Downey




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