September 29th, 2013


[links] Link salad tries to remember that time in September

Languages: Crowd-Sourced Online Nouchi Dictionary — (Via Daily Idioms, Annotated.)

Technology and the College Generation — (Via my Dad.)

Helmet Camera Captures Firefighter Bringing A Tiny Kitten Back To Life — Awww. (Via David Goldman.)

Snobbish photons forced to pair up and get heavyBizarre state of matter causes photons to be attracted to each other. Headline is goofy, story is cool.

Star Dunes in Algeria — This is a pretty cool image.

Experts set threshold for climate-change calamity Researchers say an emissions tipping point for the planet may be 25 years away.

Our Shared Humanity: Connecting the Death of an 83 Year Old White Female College Adjunct With the Shooting Death of an Unarmed Black Man Named Jonathan Ferrell — Adjunct professors have a hard life. (Via [info]threeoutside.)

Broken Windows, Broken States I hesitate to state it so baldly because inevitably it cuts off the discussion with at least a sizable minority of the political nation. But there's no way to grapple with the issue without being clear on this single underlying reality. Sufficient evidence of this comes from 2007 and 2008 when Democrats won resounding majorities in Congress and adopted exactly none of these tactics with an already quite unpopular President Bush.

?otD: WHen were you young?

Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 242.2
Number of FEMA troops on my block implementing Kenyan Muslim socialism through stock market growth and economic recovery: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)


[cancer|dreams] Waking dark and dreamless

These days I go to bed with a mix of Lorazepam and Trazodone. If I don't, the Regorafenib does weird things to my sleep cycle. Essentially, I fall asleep early and sleep short, as if my body clock wants to run about 21 or 22 hours long rather than the usual 24 hours. The cocktail of the other two helps me fall asleep and stay asleep, usually four to five REM cycles, and keeps me at more or less the right point on the day/night cycle.

The downside is that Trazodone especially makes me wake up groggy. Sleeping on my own, I wake up rapidly, moving from sleep to full awareness so quickly it sometimes feels instantaneous. That always allowed me to remember my dreams quite clearly. Now, the pharmaceutical fog that swaddles my mind on waking does not so quickly burn off in the fields of morning.

I miss my dreams.

It's a small price to pay, especially compared to so many other prices I pay as my life narrows and narrows again in the face of terminal cancer, but still another loss I regret.

Note this is not a call for advice. We've dialed in the medication package pretty carefully, experimenting with various dosage combinations to sort out what works best for my medical needs. What I'm taking now ensures I get enough sleep every night for my body to maintain itself and for whatever healing can take place from the cancer to do so.


[cancer] Writing, blogging and me

Yesterday Lisa Costello asked me a question I've already been asked in several other contexts. It's also a question I actually expect to come up in an adversarial way if my disability claims are ever audited. She said, "If you can blog, why can't you write?"

There's a simple, not very helpful answer to that question. Blogging is just talking through my fingers, conversation at one remove. Writing is something else entirely.

We spent some time talking out more complex answers to that question. I'm going to take a crack at them here, with the proviso that I'll probably have to come back later and try again. Because even I don't understand this very well.

It's been true every time I've been on chemotherapy that I cannot write. It's not that my fingers can't touch the keyboard — they're doing that right now, clearly enough. Rather, something in my head fails.

I've said for years that I don't write like I talk. What I've meant by that is the part of my brain which produces fiction seems to run off an entirely different version of the English language. As if I speak two languages fluently, both of them English. I've long wondered if fMRI studies of writers deep in first draft mode would bear this out empirically. If you think about it, the process of learning to write well is rather akin to the process of learning to speak another language well.

The objective evidence of this assertion is available in most of my published fiction. Pick up almost anything I've ever written and read half a dozen pages. You'll find sentence structures, vocabulary choices, conceptual presentations and so forth that simply would not be present in spontaneous speech. Not even speech as annoyingly erudite and obscurantist as mine can sometimes be. (Or used to be, before chemo ate my brain.) I strongly suspect that some computational textual analysis on my blog corpus and my fiction corpus would suggest two different authors.

The issue isn't putting words and sentences together, per se. Regorafenib does in fact give me mild, transient aphasia, but that's just a bloody nuisance. I can still talk just fine, and except for the odd moments of aphasia or anomia, do not sound as if I am ill or confused. It's what those sentence are doing that matters.

Conversation, of which I consider blogging to be a special case, tends to be largely single-threaded with a fairly clear through line. You don't have to think deeply or terribly far ahead to function effectively. Note that my blog posts work this way. It also comes in brief chunks. A few sentences spoken at a time, or a few hundred words typed out over twenty minutes.

Fiction requires a much deeper integration of multiple aspects of story telling. Plot, character, setting, style, prosody, world building, continuity... the list goes on and on. Essentially, it's the same "hand of cards" theory I've often discussed here and elsewhere: [ | LiveJournal ].

The number of cards you need in your hand for blogging is much smaller than the number of cards you need in your hand for writing fiction.

To abuse a metaphor, in terms of my writing faculties I've gone from playing high stakes poker at the pro tables to playing Old Maid with the kids on the back porch. This has removed me from the Producer role I've played and strongly enjoyed for years, and even compromised my Consumer role in that I can no longer effectively read books, either, because I can't keep track of that same set of complexities on the inbound side. For more discussion of this concept, see here: [ | LiveJournal ].

The same problem applies to me working my chosen profession, from which I am now vacated on disability. I can write emails, memos and even meeting reports just fine, but I cannot handle the complexities of a hundred page business and technical requirements document, as well as the financial and legal issues inherent in drafting the associated contract.

Thanks to the cognitive impairments induced by chemotherapy and the physical and psychological stresses of terminal cancer, I can no longer do my job, either as an author or in my Day Jobbe career.

Which is to say, I cannot write. No matter how well I can still talk, I don't have the focus, continuity, or depth to write.

And this frustrates me to the core of my soul. It's part of the price I pay for remaining alive at this point, quite literally so. But a part of me is already gone, almost certainly beyond retrieval.

I am dying by degrees.