A Wee Update

A couple of things:

  1. Published my first post on The Penguin Scientific, my science blog: “On Penguin Teeth“, which I wrote in honor of World Penguin Day, April 25.
  2. I submitted five manuscripts today. So that part of my writing plan has been achieved for now. Next up: World domination.

I’m also wheezing a lot, and coughing up green goo. This usually means that I have some sort of infection brewing in my lungs. I’ve been coughing and wheezing since last Friday, so this is likely. I started the Prednisone last night, and if this doesn’t clear up soon, I suppose it will be time to contact my pulmonologist.

How are you?

Accountability Post No. 2

So y’all may be wondering how I’m doing with my writing goals and my semi-life-reboot. Well, I don’t mind telling you that I’m having some trouble meeting my goals. Just after my reboot post, I slid into a depressive cycle, as people with Bipolar Type 2 are wont to do, and things just kind of… stopped. For a month or so. About three weeks ago, I figured I’d had enough of that, and finally took myself to see my psychiatrist, and she upped the dosage of one of my medications. I’m seeing results of that now, so hopefully I can get back on track.

So let’s take a look at these two sets of goals.

Writing Goals:

  1. “Death Pact” to write a short story each month. Well, if I were on track, I’d have four stories completed by now. Instead, I have… none. I have, however, made significant progress on “Flash Drive”, a story I wrote last year in four parts. I also finished the first draft of a new short story called “Mechanism”, a fantasy story with some sci-fi elements. Once I get “Flash Drive” finished and mailed out to my mailing list, I’ll start revising “Mechanism”. I also will be revising “Teh K1ng in Y3110w”, a Lovecraftian pastiche that I wrote a few years ago. And “Burying Uncle Albert” needs some love as well.
  2. Publish paperback version of The Winds of Patwin County. No progress on this one. I haven’t even looked into what it would take. I have several friends who’ve published paperback versions of their novels, so I have plenty of resources. I just haven’t felt up to it.
  3. Publish Tales from Patwin County. This is a collection of stories I’ve written that take place in the same county. No progress here.
  4. Finish first draft of Padma. Or, at least, the first draft of part one. This one isn’t going to happen by the deadline I’ve set for myself, but at least I’ve made pretty significant progress in outlining it.
  5. Write and publish some non-fiction. No progress here.
  6. Sell more fiction. I submitted one story, and got a rejection within twelve hours. I plan on submitting more, of course.

Life Reboot

I added a lot of “Be’s” to my life a couple of months ago, and some of them I have managed to pull off and some of them I have not. That post basically outlined what might be called my “Personal Mission Statement”, though I sort of loathe that particular phrase.

I decided the other day, though, that if I was to have a “Personal Mission Statement” of any type, I wanted to be able to express it in one Tweet: that is to say, in less than 140 characters. So here it is:

Be kind. Be curious.

And that’s it. The rest is gloss. I mean, I intend to be healthy, creative, joyful, and so on, but these are hard to maintain when I’m in a depressive spiral. Kindness and curiosity are also hard to maintain, but they’re two traits that I can make use of to get out of my own head when I’m depressed, and that’s important.

Anyway. That’s my second Accountability Post. I’ll post more as the year goes on.

Rebuttal

In response to this post on my wife’s blog, I want it known, for the record, that I actually liked those chocolate/peanut butter brownies. They were yummy, gooey, and delicious. I was sad when we threw them away but I knew that, for the sake of health, they had to go.

I just thought you should know that there were two sides to the story.

Rebooting. Sort of.

unnamedI was inspired by Wil Wheaton’s post, “Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life“. Not that my life needs rebooting, really. I’m married to my best friend, someone I really love and who makes me happy. I have a steady job which I enjoy and which challenges me. I have a home. My depression is under control for the most part. And so on. My life is mostly working, fully operational. So why on Earth would I need to consider rebooting anything?

Well, why not? There are some things I’d like to do more of. There are some things I’d like to do less of. Things I’d like to do better. Things I’d like to stop doing altogether.

So I’ve made a list of qualities, values, or attributes — adjectives — that I’d like to use to describe myself. Things I would like to be. They are:

  1. Be Curious. Explore the world around me, examine things more closely, be curious in public, and learn more. Keep learning new things. Read more (and Facebook and Twitter don’t count). Watch more documentaries.
  2. Be Healthy. Natch. I need to exercise more, and eat healthier. Who doesn’t? But if we’re to go to New Zealand (tentatively planned for 2020), I need to physically prepare for  a lot of walking.
  3. Be Creative. I like to write, and I like to think that I’m pretty good at it. I’d like to improve, of course. I’d also like to start exploring creativity in other areas. Not sure what though. Poetry maybe? I don’t think I have the patience to paint or sculpt, that’s for sure.
  4. Be Kind. A lot of people in the world have it rough. Everyone’s fighting some sort of battle. Why make it worse? Why not make it better for them? If a telemarketer calls, remember that they’re just doing their job, which they probably hate, so be kind to them, even as you explain that you’re not interested in their product and that you’re hanging up now.
  5. Be Humble. By which I mean remember that I’m certainly not the best or smartest or whatever person in the room. Being humble opens me up to listening to other people and learning their stories, because everyone has one.
  6. Be Playful. Play games. Play with toys, such as the Raspberry Pi mini-computer my wife gave me for Christmas. Just have fun with life. No one gets out of it alive.
  7. Be Joyful. The universe is amazing and full of wonder. Yes, there is plenty of suffering and pain. Take joy in helping to relieve them.

Many of these values are based in and informed by my faith (remember, I’m an Episcopalian). The overall theme, I think, is to simply appreciate myself and the world I’m in and the people who inhabit it. The motto of the Episcopal Church is, “Love God. Love your Neighbor. Change the World.”

I recognize, of course, that I’ll have problems with some of these from time to time. Sometimes I’ll slip back into depression, sometimes I just won’t have the energy to learn something new, sometimes my temper will get in the way of being kind to anyone. I will try to be okay with that, and when it happens, I will try to refocus.

Spring is almost here. It’s warm outside, and we’ve got the windows open, which makes the cats happy. Birds are singing. Overall, things are pretty cool.

On Being an Adult

It was good dal, made with more or less fresh lentils, organic onions and sweet potatoes, and plenty of spices. We’d made it the other night for dinner, and the recipe made a large amount of it. We had it for dinner on Sunday night and lunch yesterday. And the menu plan we’d made for ourselves for the week called for us to us to have it for dinner tonight.

Tonight, though, we were pretty much finished with the dal, even though we still had something like six servings left. But a menu plan is a menu plan. And after a brief flirtation with the idea of going to IHOP — today being International Pancake Day, after all — we decided to have the dal anyway. And lemon muffins for dessert. We watched an old episode of Face Off while we ate, and wished for pancakes.

And that’s the thing about being an adult. Sometimes, you have to pass on the pancakes so you can eat the healthy thing. Except that, as an adult, there aren’t other adults telling you that it’s good for you. You have to tell yourself.

Accountability Post No. 1

I’m going to post one of these “Accountability Posts” from time to time, to, uh… keep myself accountable to the writing goals I set for myself earlier. So here’s how I’m doing on each one:

  1. Story per month. Well, I haven’t written a story in February, and my January story, “Flash Drive”, is still in progress. I submitted it to my writers’ groups, and got some fantastic feedback, but there are serious flaws that need to be addressed. So, I plan on revising it heavily, and then sending it out to my mailing list.
  2. Paperback version of “The Winds of Patwin County”. Um. So. No progress here.
  3. Publish Tales from Patwin County. I long ago selected some of the stories that I want to include in this collection, so that’s done. I need to track down someone who can do the cover art. And revise and format the stories themselves.
  4. Finish first draft of Padma. I’ve made substantial progress on the outline, but I’m finding this project intimidating. It involves so much that I just don’t know: quantum cosmology, Hindu mythology, what medical school is like, and so on. I’m finding good resources online, but still… kind of overwhelming.
  5. Write some nonfiction. Aside from my last two blog posts, I haven’t written any. Not yet. I did set up my science blog, The Penguin Scientific, but I haven’t posted anything there yet.
  6. Submit more fiction. I haven’t done so yet.

I suppose part of the reason for not making much progress on any of these goals is simply being tired. Plus, since I spend my entire day in front of a computer at work, I’m never necessarily motivated to get in front of my computer at home and do work. Far easier to sit on the sofa in the living room, eating dinner and watching old episodes of Face Off. That’s as inspired as I get in the evenings.

So hopefully, doing these accountability posts from time to time will help me focus and do what needs to be done.

Here’s your reward for bearing with me on this: the video to “Drink with the Living Dead” by Ghoultown. It’s a creepy song, and not safe for work. Enjoy!

The Weirdness of Emergent Behaviors

800px-Whooping_Crane_in_flight_in_Texas
Whooping Crane in flight in Texas. USDA Photo by John Noll.

While listening to the February 17th episode of This Week in Science podcast, I learned that the whooping crane, Grus americana, which has been on the brink of extinction, was recently reintroduced to the wild in Louisiana, though their original habitat has changed. The birds are responding to this change, and thriving, by altering their appetite to include small reptiles and amphibians. Though their natural history isn’t entirely understood, it’s generally agreed that this is new behavior; it’s behavior that emerged after their habitat changed.

Or consider our cat Rosemary (gone but still in our hearts). She was a normal cat with no particular strange behaviors, until we acquired some small stuffed dragons, which she began to pick up in her mouth and carry around our house. She wasn’t nesting with them, because she didn’t gather them up in one single place; rather, she deposited them in random locations, upstairs and down, and sometimes on the stairs themselves. So this I’m also considering an “emergent behavior”, that is, an unexpected new behavior that emerges after a change in environment.

I suppose this isn’t technically emergent behavior, though. The term, I believe, actually comes from complexity theory and refers to a system which exhibits traits and behaviors that cannot necessarily be explained in terms of the parts. A single neuron, for example, is not at all capable of the higher thought processes that a brain, composed of millions of neurons, is capable of. Similarly, an individual ant is not capable of doing very much, but organize thousands of them into a colony and you get some very complex behaviors indeed (Douglas Hofstader, in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, even imagined that an ant colony that was capable of rational thought).

This post isn’t meant to be scientific or a reflection of any philosophical notions, just some random thoughts that I’ve pondered throughout the years. The basic point is that emergent behaviors and properties are weird. When an organism’s or individual’s habitat or environment changes in a truly novel way, you can’t necessarily predict what the response will be. Similarly, with complex systems, you can’t necessarily predict what strange properties will show up.

That’s all I got for now. Again, my next post will probably be about our cat Nutmeg, who, because she’s kind of chubby, I’ve taken to calling “Miss Chumbly-Wumbly”. Sure it makes no sense. But neither does this post.