Filed under: Alzheimer's, Book Conservation, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Emergency, General Musings, George Orwell, Government, Heinlein, Paleo-Future, Politics, Predictions, Preparedness, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: 1984, Alzheimer's, America, blogging, care-giving, civil liberties, Civil War, civilization, Communion of Dreams, Crazy Years, dementia, Donald Trump, election, Heinlein, Her Final Year, Hilary Clinton, jim downey, luck, Nazi, NPR, politics, predictions, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, survival, technology, theocracy, Wikipedia, writing
The eighty-something man fumbled with the pocket knife he had carried his whole life. His hands trembled with age, rage, and fear, but if the hulking stranger refused to leave his house, well, then by God he’d force the man to leave!
The stranger easily took away the knife, and told the man to go back upstairs. Then he sat down on the mechanic’s stool next to his motorcycle and began to weep.
I was about 14, and had just witnessed age-related dementia for the first time.
The hulking stranger was my uncle, whom I had come to live with. The elderly man was his grandfather. We were at his grandparent’s home, using the garage under the house as a warm place to get a little work done on his bike. He and his grandparents were close, always had been. He had lived with them for a while when he was young.
* * *
President Trump is certain that he was cheated out of a popular election mandate due to voter fraud. Almost no one else agrees, and even members of his own party who are responsible for elections at the state and local level have said that there is virtually no evidence of actual fraud.
The President has also claimed that his inauguration had more people in attendance and watching around the world than any previous. The best evidence and estimates available from multiple sources do not support this claim.
I could go on.
* * *
I remember Martha Sr getting fixated on things which were weird, unpredictable. Fixated in such a way that no matter what we tried to say or do, she was certain that we were wrong. Or just lying to her. Or something.
It was almost always some strange idea or memory or object which would catch her attention seemingly out of the blue and often at the most inconvenient times. The idea that the strawberry seeds in her yogurt were necessary for completing a crossword puzzle, so she had to pick them out and keep them. Or that she was going on a train trip, and had to make sure to go get her tickets right now. It drove us completely nuts, and was one of the more difficult challenges of being care-givers. We’d try to distract her with other things, or explain that we already had her tickets and she didn’t need to worry. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes she’d go on and on and on about whatever it was which had captured her attention, returning to it for days on end.
* * *
In the aftermath of the presidential election, many people who had supported Secretary Clinton were shocked, stunned, at the outcome.
Some started looking for ways to challenge the results. First there was an effort to get the Electoral College to not affirm Donald Trump as the winner, on the basis that Russia had influenced the election. Then there was a hope that the House of Representatives would not confirm the results of the Electoral College vote. Then there were challenges made to whether President Trump could hold the office, since he was in violation of the Constitution.
I could go on.
* * *
It seems like the long-respected norms of civic behavior are finally starting to break down. They’ve been stressed for a very long time, like a marriage which has gone badly wrong, but is held together out of fear for what would actually happen if one partner were to confront the other over perceived slights or suspected betrayal.
But now someone has had enough, and said words which cannot be taken back.
The shouting, the screaming, the breaking of china in anger and frustration has begun.
Young children stand in the doorway to the kitchen, tears streaming down their face, unsure what this means or what will happen next.
* * *
Someone punched a neo-Nazi. Plenty of people cheered. It’s hard not to cheer when Nazis get punched.
The day after the inauguration, millions of people marched in protest of the new president and his administration. Plenty of people cheered. It’s hard not to cheer the affirmation of civil rights and political empowerment.
The day after that, a top-level presidential advisor ill-advisedly used the term “alternative facts” when disagreeing about the turnout at the inauguration. Plenty of people jeered at her for doing so. It’s hard not to mock something straight out of 1984.
The day after that saw the start of a number of Executive Orders and memoranda signed by President Trump, putting into motion the changes which he and other members of his party had promised. Plenty of people cheered to see the change they wanted starting. Plenty of people jeered both the spirit and the letter of the changes.
* * *
I’m not saying that President Trump has age-related dementia. Not even the first signs of it. I’m a bookbinder, not a doctor, and am in no way qualified to make such an assessment.
And I’m not saying that the rhetoric and actions from those who oppose the new administration are equivalent to the rhetoric and actions of those who have supported it.
I am saying that things have changed. I think that we are on the precipice of something akin to Heinlein’s “The Crazy Years”. Things have changed so much, and so quickly, that I have had to go back and make substantial revisions to St Cybi’s Well. Because what before was a challenge to the reader’s ‘suspension of disbelief’ has been completely superseded by our reality. It’s not the president who is showing signs of dementia — it’s our society.
And I am saying that when you accept and embrace the use of violence against a political opponent, you open yourself up to the use of violence against you by your political opponents. Because there are always justifications and rationalizations for such use, and human history is filled with the resultant wars civil and decidedly uncivil. Be very careful what you wish for.
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Augmented Reality, Book Conservation, Connections, Feedback, General Musings, Music, Publishing, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Amazon, Archangel, art, augmented reality, book conservation, bookbinding, direct publishing, feedback, jim downey, Legacy Bookbindery, literature, Marguerite Reed, music, Queen, reality, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, technology, video, writing, www youtube
For fun, and to make someone’s year a little better, I recently rebound a friend’s SF novel, converting the paperback edition into a hardcover binding.
With my bookbinding skills it’s a fairly simple and straightforward process, but not a cost-effective one (so don’t ask me to rebind your favorite paperbacks). The result is usually very satisfactory and striking, and makes for a nice little present when I am in the mood to do something different from my usual conservation work.
Anyway, I made this book and mailed it to my friend where she works. She opened it and shared it with her co-workers, who thought it was “pretty darn cool.”
Which, you know, is cool and all. But consider: making that book, that physical object, took me maybe an hour and a half actual labor time. But I’m sure that it took my friend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of labor to write that book. To conceptualize it. To make notes. To research. To stare at the blank computer screen in abject terror. To write the first draft. To edit. To stare at the words there in horror and disgust at how horrible her writing was (I assume this happened anyway, since almost every serious writer I’ve known goes through this multiple times with any book). To write the second draft. And then the third, after getting feedback from friends and editors. Et cetera, et cetera.
But what her co-workers thought was “pretty darn cool” was a simple physical object.
Now, I’m sure that if you asked them, her co-workers would say that her book — the written words — was also pretty darn cool. And maybe some of them have even read it.** Still, the fact remains that for most people written work is mostly an abstraction, one which takes real effort and time to understand and enjoy. Whereas a tangible artifact like an artisanal hardcover book can be handled and appreciated as reality.
People are funny, aren’t we?
**A confession: I haven’t yet myself, since I am still in the middle of doing battle with St Cybi’s Well, and I just can’t read long fiction when I am trying to write it, since it just messes up my own writing. But you can bet I will when I finally finish this book.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Brave New World, Connections, Emergency, Failure, Faith healing, Feedback, Flu, General Musings, Government, Health, Kindle, New Horizons, Plague, Politics, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Terrorism, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: Alzheimer's, atherosclerosis, blogging, Brexit, care-giving, Communion of Dreams, election, faith healing, finance, health, heart attack, Her Final Year, jim downey, luck, miracles, myocardial infarction, politics, predictions, religion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, stent, survival, technology, theocracy
2016 was odd. Just plain odd.
On the one hand, I had the same dumpster-fire of a year that everyone had, in terms of notable deaths, bizarre & unexpected election results here and abroad, and surreal news & social trends.
On the other hand, I’m alive. Which is something of a small (technological) miracle.
I now understand better (thanks to more discussion with my doctors, research, and experience) what happened with my heart, and what it really meant. Turns out that I didn’t have any plaque build-up even in the convoluted artery in question, as I initially thought. No, it was just that badly kinked, and probably had been all my life. I had started to notice it just because of normal aging, meaning that the normal parts of my heart were slowly getting weaker.
In the last six months or so I have finally been able to strengthen the 1/3 of my heart which had never had proper blood supply. Meaning that now I am actually in better cardiac health than I have ever been before. I walk three miles most mornings (5-6 days a week, usually), and don’t feel the slightest bit fatigued from it. The other parts of my 58-year-old body may limit me, but my cardiac condition isn’t a problem at all. Part of me wonders what it would have been like to have had this kind of stamina when I was young and athletic. Another part of me realizes that those limitations helped me develop awareness and self-discipline which I may have missed, otherwise.
Related to that, as mentioned in this post, early last year our financial situation stabilized for the good. We still need to be reasonably prudent about how we go through life, but I no longer feel as if I am hanging on by my fingernails sometimes. Without that change, I may not have felt secure enough to have my heart checked out when I did — meaning that I was very much at risk for the slightest little blood clot to trigger a massive heart attack.
Unrelated to any of that, the election lead-up and results also proved to be both a blessing and a curse for me. I was astonished at the results of both the Brexit and US presidential elections (and no, I’m not going to argue the point in comments — so just refrain from making any on this topic), yet it solved a problem for me with writing St Cybi’s Well. See, in the alternate time-line of Communion of Dreams, prior to the onset of the fire-flu, the US had become an authoritarian, semi-theocratic state. But I was having a really hard time explaining how we had gotten to such a point when actually writing SCW; everything I came up with just seemed too outlandish for the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader.
Well, that’s not a problem any longer. No, I’m not saying that I think that the US is headed for an authoritarian, semi-theocratic state … but because of the rhetoric and rise in power of some groups both in the US and the UK, that is no longer an unimaginable future. As a result, I have been revising the finished chapters of SCW to reflect these new insights, and I think that the book will be *much* stronger for it.
So yeah, I have really mixed feelings about 2016.
Oh well, I suppose that at least I’m around to have them. And that’s a good thing.
*You should watch this sometime. Fun movie.
Filed under: Book Conservation, Brave New World, Connections, Emergency, Failure, Faith healing, Gardening, General Musings, Health, Predictions, Preparedness, Promotion, Psychic abilities, Religion, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Travel, University of Missouri, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: atherosclerosis, blogging, book conservation, bookbinding, Communion of Dreams, excerpt, faith healing, finance, gardening, Habaneros, health, heart attack, jim downey, Legacy Bookbindery, legal, luck, miracles, MU, myocardial infarction, predictions, psychic abilities, religion, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, stent, survival, teaching, technology, tomatoes, University of Missouri
The past few months have been … eventful.
* * * * * * *
Why? What happened?
… in no particular order:
- Discovery, and subsequent treatment, of a major cardiac health problem.
- Completion of a full course of cardiac rehab.
- A substantial change in our financial situation resulting from the sale of property we owned.
- A bunch of resultant legal and investment research, planning, and changes which every adult should do but few of us ever get around to actually completing. Something about almost dying tends to focus the mind on such matters.
- A couple of extended out-of-state trips.
- My starting to train someone from the MU library staff in proper conservation techniques a couple of afternoons a week.
- A complete new computer system & software upgrade, with all the fun of transferring archives and working files.
And then there’s all the usual business of living and working. Having a couple of months of my life sucked up by dealing with the cardiac problems & treatment meant a lot of changes and trade-offs … but it sure as hell beats being dead from a massive sudden heart attack.
* * * * * * *
So, a couple weeks ago I went through and re-read the entire text of SCW to date, then started working to pick up the story again and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. Here’s an excerpt from the next section:
Darnell looked out Megan’s bedroom window, across the little lane into the large field beside the Tanat. The field, where so recently cattle peacefully grazed, was now a small village of tents and temporary structures. Most prominent among them was a large marquee someone had found and brought from a nearby town. Make-shift walls had been constructed of large plastic-wrapped round bales of hay from down the road, their tough skin making them weather and even somewhat fire-resistant. The marquee was the main recovery center, where people would be brought from the church after healing, allowed to emerge from the deep sleep at their own pace.
He turned and looked at his sister, who was sitting on the side of her bed. “There’s no reason for you to get up. We can handle it. Go back to sleep.”
There was a faint blue-white shimmer to her skin which never left her now. It wasn’t like she was glowing, exactly, but more like she had a permanent echo of the healing energy which she had used so much in the past couple of weeks. She shook her head. Darnell wasn’t sure whether it was in response to his comment, or just an effort to clear away cobwebs of sleep. “It’s better if it comes from me. I’m known as the Guardian of the Shrine. That carries some official weight with the Church.”
* * * * * * *
I got my garden in late this year. No surprise, given how things went with spring and the early summer. So my tomato plants were not as far along as they could have been when the first waves of heavy storms hit in June. Since then we’ve had fairly regular poundings of storms. And it looks like the tomatoes are almost at the end of their producing for this year — a full month or so early. But between what I harvested, and extra tomatoes picked up at the farmer’s market, I’ve put up about 60 pints of chopped tomatoes. Not quite as much as I would normally like to have, but not bad considering the situation.
And my habanero plants seem to be doing OK this year. Won’t be a bumper crop, but it ain’t nothing.
* * * * * * *
The past few months have been … eventful.
And a lot of things which normally get done, didn’t. Or were handled in a more superficial way than I would usually do.
But that’s OK.
Filed under: Connections, Faith healing, Flu, Health, Pandemic, Predictions, Psychic abilities, Publishing, Religion, Science Fiction, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, Communion of Dreams, Darnell Sidwell, direct publishing, fire-flu, flu, influenza, jim downey, Llangelynnin, pandemic, Science Fiction, snowdoniaguide.com, St. Cybi's Well, travel, video, Wales, writing
As I noted I probably would a little over a week ago, I’ve just wrapped up work on Chapter Fourteen: Llangelynnin of St Cybi’s Well. It’s a long chapter — twice as long as most of the chapters are — and a pivotal one, since it includes the first instance of the faith healing/psychic abilities as referenced in Communion of Dreams. Here’s a critical passage, which will resonate for those who have read CoD already, where Darnell Sidwell’s sister Megan first encounters the healing energy just as the fire-flu is becoming a pandemic:
She stepped into the small room of the well, her arms opening wide, her face lifting to the heavens. It was indeed as though she were drinking in the light he still saw there, or perhaps like she was drinking in rain as it fell. She stood thus for a long minute, perhaps two. Then slowly she knelt before the opening of the well, her hands coming together and plunging into the cold, still water. The light filling the small space seemed to swirl around, coalescing into her cupped hands as she raised them out of Celynin’s Well.
Darnell stepped inside the small roofless room, bending to help Megan stand. As she did, he looked down and saw that she had water in her hands, but not filling them. Rather, it was water as he knew it from his time in space: a slowly pulsing, shimmering sphere. It seemed to float just above the cradle made by her hands.
That brings me to a total of approximately 95,000 words. I still have one short transitional ‘interlude’, then three named chapters, then a brief ‘coda’, and the book will be finished. Probably another 25,000 – 30,000 words. Which will put it right at about the total length of Communion of Dreams.
What’s interesting for me is that this chapter has proven to be a pivotal one in another way: it feels now like I really am on the home stretch of this project. Just finishing this chapter has changed the whole creative energy for me. There’s still a lot of work to do, but it no longer feels … daunting.
Filed under: Amazon, Bipolar, Connections, Faith healing, Flu, Predictions, Religion, Science, Science Fiction, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, Communion of Dreams, Darnell Sidwell, fire-flu, free, Her Final Year, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, Llangelynnin, memoir, promotion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing
With a little luck, this week I’ll finish up another chapter, one I have been slogging away on for FAR too long. As is plainly clear to anyone who even casually reads this blog, I am not one of those writers who is able to just jump in and dash off page after page of text. I spend days thinking through scenes, how they integrate into the overall story. I’ll spend hours researching stuff which seems just completely tangential to the narrative, because I want everything to actually fit together properly. And I’ll often labor over a couple hundred words of text, trying to capture just the right tone. Whether I accomplish those goals in the end is another matter altogether.
So, for me at least, and for most of the time, writing is just hard work. And as I have noted both here and in personal communications, there are times I fear I have lost my way completely. That I am fooling myself to think that anyone will ever have the slightest interest in plowing through all that text. I’ve felt that way a lot over the last year. Gah.
And then, there are days like yesterday.
When, in about 90 minutes, about 1200 words just flowed out of me and onto the screen. When months of set-up and research all came together. Here’s a bit of that:
The back doors of the van were open, and there, cradled by her mother, was a little girl, about 8 years old. Her rich Indian coloration couldn’t hide the fact that there was already a blueish hue to the skin of her face and hands. With no hesitation, Megan stepped forward, glanced at the mother, and asked “how long has she had this color? The cyanosis?”
“Not long,” she said, in a plain Midwestern American accent. “Maybe 15 minutes.”
Megan looked to Darnell. “They didn’t give us any oxygen. About the only thing we have which might help are A.C.E. inhibitors, and I have no idea where those are in the crates they loaded. And they take too long to really work.”
Darnell studied her face, then turned to Joey. He started to say “I’m not sure …”
“Dar, wait,” said Megan. She looked at the girl, then at her parents. “There may be something else we can do.”
“What?” asked both Darnell and Joey, at the same time.
“Llangelynnin isn’t far,” said Megan.
“We passed through there just half a mile or so back,” said the girl’s mother. “But there’s not much there.”
“Not the town. The old church, up in the hills above. It’s about two kilometers,” replied Megan, looking from face to face. “It was a place of healing. Particularly for healing children.”
And the next bit, which I wrote today? It went back and referenced something I had planted in a scene 11 chapters ago. And which ties in to a critical scene in Communion of Dreams that I wrote about a decade ago. Even better, all of that was intentional — pieces of a much larger puzzle, finally falling into place.
Writing a novel is just brutal hard work. At least it is for me, most of the time.
But I no longer feel like I have lost my way.
Filed under: Connections, Emergency, Flu, Government, Health, Louis Pasteur, NPR, Pandemic, Plague, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, cytokine storm, Ebola, fire-flu, flu, health, influenza, Jason Beaubien, jim downey, Louis Pasteur, NPR, pandemic, Peter Sands, predictions, science, Science Fiction, Spanish flu, St. Cybi's Well, Wikipedia, writing
Last week I wrote the following excerpt from St Cybi’s Well:
Megan came out of the bedroom, dressed, but still toweling her hair. “Done. Bathroom’s all yours. What did the BBC have to say?”
Darnell glanced over at the stereo system, then back to her. “The government is asking people to just stay home if they have any indications of illness. There’s talk of a week-long ‘bank holiday’, so people don’t go in to work or school; we’ll probably hear more about that later today. And there have been more anti-immigrant riots in London and some other places. And not just the so-called ‘Tommys’.”
“People are frightened.”
“Yeah, no surprise.” Darnell nodded at the stereo again. “There was also some science reporting about VCS [Viral Cytokine Syndrome, which is the initial name for the spreading illness] itself. Looks like it is caused by a flu strain which is similar to the 1918 virus, but one which is even more virulent.”
Megan paused, her hands lowered. The towel hung limply by her side. “Didn’t that kill millions, world-wide?”
“And this looks to be worse?”
“Yeah,” Darnell repeated. “This seems to spread just as easily, but kills faster. Well, kills healthy adults faster – that cytokine storm thing, which is basically the immune system going crazy, creating high fever and complete exhaustion. Anyone who is young, or old, or otherwise has a compromised immune system, can get the flu and there’s a good chance that they’ll develop pneumonia which can kill them in a week or so without proper treatment.”
“But there are treatments for pneumonia.”
“There are. And even some things that can be done for someone with Cytokine Syndrome, if you get to them soon enough.” He sighed. “But how well do you think the health system here or anywhere will be able to handle such a fast-moving epidemic, particularly if health workers are among the most vulnerable group? Do you remember how devastating haemorrhagic fevers like Ebola have been in isolated areas, because health workers are often among the first victims of the disease? And those require direct contact with bodily fluids … this flu is airborne.”
Today, from NPR’s coverage of a new global health risk report:
Sands says the Ebola outbreak of 2014-15 was a wake-up call. It showed that the world is not prepared to deal with a rapidly spreading disease.
“The alerts were raised too slowly. Local health systems were quickly overwhelmed. The international response was slow and clumsy,” he says. “We lacked many of the medical products we needed, either therapeutic or vaccination or indeed even effective diagnostics.”
* * *
If an outbreak like the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed more than 50 million, were to happen today, the economic damage would be in the trillions of dollars. And the psychological toll could make things worse. Sands says news of a deadly, highly contagious pathogen could prompt people all over the world to panic.
“We are much more connected not just physically but by media nowadays,” he says. “Hearing about and seeing infectious disease outbreaks on TV can spread fear even more rapidly than the disease itself. That in turn can grow changes in behavior and policy which magnify the economic impact.”