April 10th, 2012


[links] Link salad might as well jump

Rejecting Creationism: Building Better Monsters Through Evolution — Yeah, baby! (Via [info]deborahjross's LJ here.)

Social rank 'linked to immunity'A study of rhesus macaque monkeys may have solved a long-standing puzzle on a link between social rank and health.

A pair of geologic clocks get updates — Unlike either faith or ideology, science is self-correcting. For people with starkly dualistic world views, this looks like a bug. For those of us in the reality-based community, this is a feature.

Sequencing and Mouse "Avatars" Personalize Cancer Treatment — Yeah, well.

Drive-Through Colon Cancer Screening — Huh?

Tightening the Lid on Pain Prescriptions — Personally, I detest opiates and their effects on me. But everybody's needs are different.

The Taint of ‘Social Darwinism’

Keeping it Weird in Austin, TexasAren't the residents of the proudly hip city of Austin, Texas, just traditionalists at heart? I lived there for eighteen years, and sorely do miss the place. (Thanks to Dad.)

Gay Mormon students risk excommunication with ‘It Gets Better at Brigham Young University’ video

It's already been a very record-breaking hot year — Man, Al Gore and all those Ferrari-driving climate scientists have been really busy with their climate change conspiracy, haven't they? Imagine that, getting even the actual weather to trend. Thank god we have Rush Limbaugh and the Republican party to protect us from the facts on the ground.

The Anxiety Over America’s Shifting Spirituality

The Thinking Liberal?New research finds that “low-effort” thinking about a given issue is more likely to result in a conservative stance. This, fundamentally, is why so many conservatives are opposed to education. They know that if their kids are exposed to wide range of ideas, they will think for themselves, and the reflexive easy answers of rigid ideology and faith don't measure up to the nuanced reality of the world.

The Gullible Center — Paul Krugman on Rep. Paul Ryan.

Gun Sales Booming: Doomsday, Obama or Zombies? — (Via [info]danjite.)

NRA expands its role from fight for gun rights to conservative causes — Because there wasn't enough batshit to go around already in America, apparently. (Via [info]danjite.)

President Reagan Backs The Buffett Rule — Reagan was a well-known socialist. Why, he was even president of a union for a while, and we all know what conservatives think of that. Ask yourself the same question every Republican would when confronted with inconvenient truths. "What would Reagan have done?" No, wait... Shit!

NH GOP Senator Says The Mentally Ill Are ‘Defective People’ That Should Be Shipped Off To SiberiaRepublican State House Speaker William O’Brien said that “at Harty’s age [90 years old], he has earned the right to say what he think." Well, this is America. Anybody can say what they think. It's that little thing we have called the First Amendment. However, neither old age nor Constitutional rights excuse arrant bigotry and willful ignorance. (Snurched from Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

Paging Justice Scalia to the "Defer to the Executive Power" Courtesy PhoneY'know, I've got this niggling feeling -- in the back of my mind -- that there was some political party that used to scream all the time about "judicial activism," and how unelected judges were trying to make law, which was evil and wrong, and that judges should just defer to the power of the executive and the legislative power. If only I could remember who that party was...

Trying to Further Vilify Abortion Doctors By Implying They're Also Cannibals — Because reasoned and principled positions are the justly famed hallmarks of conservative thought.

My Version of “The Talk”Some 41% of our fellow Americans identify as “conservative;” this is why we can’t have nice things. By “nice things,” I mean things like universal health care, marriage equality and a sane foreign policy.

Obama levels straight shots at Supreme Court and Ryan budgetConservatives are not accustomed to being on the defensive. They have long experience with attacking the evils of the left and the abuses of activist judges. They love to assail “tax-and-spend liberals” without ever discussing who should be taxed or what government money is actually spent on. They expect their progressive opponents to be wimpy and apologetic.

Taking Credit Where None Is DueAs Friday’s jobless numbers showed, the economic recovery has been listless and fragile, but its upward trajectory has been clear enough that Republicans have been forced to acknowledge it. To avoid giving President Obama the slightest bit of credit for the improvement, however, they have come up with increasingly convoluted explanations that have little relationship to reality. This is news?

?otd: How high? How fast?

Writing time yesterday: 1.5 hours (3,100 words on Their Currents Turn Awry)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.25 (solid)
Weight: 241.2 (!)
Currently reading: The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling


[process] Muddling in the middle

In the last nine days, I've written 24,500 words on Their Currents Turn Awry. Since I started with 66,600 words from last year's writing, I really only need another 50,000 to 60,000 words to finish this draft. In other words, I'm already a third of the way there.

But I'm also firmly in the middle. And I'm hitting a muddle in the middle so classic that it makes me laugh at myself. "This boring." "No one wants to read this." "Why am I writing this?" "Look, there's some bills that need to be paid!"

One if the reasons this strikes me as funny is that Sunspin as a whole is organized in arcs or chunks. Each chunk is 60,000 to 80,000 words long, roughly. Each chunk has three segments of 20,000 to 30,000 words each. There is no chaptering. So within each segment, I have a middle. Within each chunk I have a middle. Within each book, I have a middle. Within the four book series, I have a middle.

Are you sensing a pattern yet?

Right now I'm approaching the middle of the second chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry, just past the middle of the book, and approaching the middle of the series. It's as if my muddle in the middle were a nested set of Ptolemaic epicycles and they're all coming together.

So, hell yeah, I'm muddling. This is where I know not to decide the idea is boring and stupid and go chase some other shiny, cool idea. How do I know not to do this? Because I am an experienced writer.

Everybody's middles suck. At least to them, while they're writing. Giving up at this point is the biggest mistake newer writers make. And it's a mistake that tempts at least some of us older writers.

Luckily for me, my desire to see how the story comes out waaaaay trumps the middle-muddling going on.


[personal] Cancer, privilege and dialect

I was thinking yesterday about privilege and experience in our society, specifically in the context of my cancer journey. It's an interesting intellectual trail, at least to me. Most of this is stuff I've said before, but this iteration of my thoughts gave these ideas and this personal history of mine some added dimensionality.

Both on the face of it and deep down, I am the beneficiary of most forms of transparent privilege in contemporary American society. I'm white, male, slightly taller than average, with a short English name and a college education. To put it in one framing, I am a card-carrying birthright member of the patriarchy. To put it in another framing, I fit into many people's default conception of responsible authority. As I've sometimes joked, if I were 50 pounds lighter and $500,000 richer, I would be The Man. (Well, and maybe dress a little more formally and wear a little less ink on my skin.)

This privilege shows up in everything from the way I'm treated at shop counters to my well-paying high tech job. And believe me, I'm very, very aware of that. I try quite hard to not leverage my position in society when that's under my control. There are surely far more places where it is not only not under my control, but completely invisible to me. That's why they call it "privilege", after all.

Yet even in those terms, I'm not quite what I appear to be on the surface. There are some important invisible differences. Born and raised overseas, I'm a Third Culture Kid, which gives me a worldview fairly lateral to that of the average American white dude of my generation. As a survivor of sexual abuse in my early grade school years, I embody psychological, emotional and sexual characteristics that aren't reflective of a stereotypical middle class upbringing. As a long-time sufferer from chronic depression (roughly age 12 through age 25), including one hospitalization for a suicide attempt, I have a nonstereotypical mental health history. And though I am a straight-identified cis-gendered man, my sexuality is a lot more complex and dimensional that the heteronormativity implied by those labels.

None of that stuff is visible from a casual encounter with me, nor can it be discerned in most of what's written about me on the Internet. Yet those experiences and aspects strongly inform who I am. Even so, they're pretty holistically a part of me. I don't have a special sense of identification as an "abuse survivor" or a "Third Culture Kid" or whatever. They're just me. An inherent component of my acculturation and socialization.

Cancer, on the other hand, has been very different.

For the first time in my life, I've had a major portion of my privilege revoked. That's the privilege of being healthy (and not having to worry about my continued health). Like most forms of privilege, it's invisible to the people who possess it. The privilege of health was certainly invisible to me until I lost it. While I wouldn't pretend for a moment to complain that the chronically ill are an oppressed minority, we do pay huge prices for our conditions. Many of those prices aren't obvious outside the privacy of our own lives, and many of them unappreciated or misunderstood by others.

As a simple and obvious example, the entire conservative framing of the debate around healthcare reform is profoundly insulting to someone who actually has to deal with pre-existing conditions, out of pocket payments, lifetime treatment caps and end-of-life issues. You're worried about Sarah Palin's completely fictional death panels? Try an insurance company's policy review process sometime. The private market is not your friend once you become a net healthcare consumer. As we all do, eventually.

Cancer has also dragged me through emotional and mental terrain every bit as dreadful as what put me in the hospital back in 1980. The depression this time isn't chronic. Rather, it is savagely situational. And no less hideous or damaging for that.

Cancer has imposed costs on me that are largely invisible to others but no less staggering. These range from the trivial (increased home heating expense due to decreased cold tolerance) to the substantial (lost income from months of writing time lost, delaying book production). Not to mention the horrendous direct costs of out of pocket expenses, deductibles and co-pays ranging as high as $200 per week while on chemotherapy. And all that with good health insurance, conservatives opposed to HCR take note.

Even there, I am very lucky. My white, male, middle class privilege has brought me to a profession and a job where I can perform my duties even when too sick to leave the house. I am paid well enough to address most of those extra costs, even though it strains me financially.

Most of all, cancer has brought me to a new domain of experience. This is one I wouldn't wish on anyone, anywhere for any reason, but here I am.

So many of the markers of status, success, and vulnerability arise from the conditions of our birth. We're all born into an ethnic identity, a gender, a social and economic class. Any of those things can potentially be changed, some at much greater personal cost than others, but none of them are easy to revise.

But there are also experience domains that change and shape who we are. Women who've undergone pregnancy and childbirth have something in common that no one who hasn't been on that journey can really understand. Likewise combat veterans, or emergency responders, or emergency room physicians, or the desperately poor. I have been none of these people, I have done none of these things.

So it is with cancer patients. We share an immediacy of mortality that's unknown among the healthy, and differently shaped for people with other illnesses. We share a medical experience in the form of chemotherapy that is brutal beyond description, one of the most barbaric frontiers of contemporary healthcare. We share a profound sense of loss — loss of innocence, loss of hope, financial loss, emotional loss.

And that gives us a common dialect that cuts across lines of ethnicity, gender, class and really anything else. I can participate in conversations with fellow cancer survivors that have profoundly different meanings than even those exact same words shared with someone in baseline health.

This experience, cancer, is the first time in my life that I have felt different. Even those other lateral aspects of my character and upbringing that I noted were and are just part of me. Like being right-handed, or having pale eyes. Cancer feels imposed, unignorable, impossible to evade or escape or outlive. It's a gut-wrenching lesson in being on the other end of life's big stick.

Most of all, perhaps, cancer gives me far more to say, and far less time to say it in. If I do die of this soon, which seems rather more likely than not these days, I will regret most what cancer kept me from them by stealing these years away both before and after my death.

What must it feel like to have such regrets from the moment of one's birth?