Beloved Distance is now available on Amazon – in Kindle format.
Of all the nerve, I — a non-scientist, a non-neurologist, a non-medical person — am writing a book about the nervous system. To make matters worse (in case you’re not sure, I am being facetious), I’m taking the liberty of philosophizing about it — as a non-academic, an unofficial philosopher.
It’s tricky, to say the least. The field of neurology keeps changing. Our understandings of neurobiology are evolving at a rapid rate, as every month it seems someone discovers something new, or puts 2-and-2 together in ways that add up to more than 4. Or, for that matter, they realize there’s another hidden “2” in the equation that nobody noticed before, and they either add it in, or square the values that they’ve discovered before.
It’s tricky, even for people who are highly trained scientists, on the cusp of cutting-edge research. It’s tough to stay current — even (especially?) if you’re actively involved in research, yourself.
But I’m doing it, anyway. Because, when we look closely at the world around us, and we have even the most basic access to what we Do Know About Our Nervous Systems, it’s possible to use that knowledge as a springboard to better understand the world around us. In fact, it’s almost irresistably compelling.
Very few of us understand what exactly is going on inside the sun that produces all that light and heat and those amazing sunsets. But we do know how to reference that light and heat and color in our lives to add meaning and “texture” to our experience. We don’t understand the exact chemical compositions of water and air, but we constantly use them as metaphors, often without realizing it.
I think we can/should do the same with our nervous systems. Over the past 20 years, we’ve gained the ability to look more closely and understand more completely, just how it all works — as far as we can currently tell. That knowledge is continually shifting and changing, of course, and it could be that some (much?) of what I’m writing about will change in the next 20 years. But that shouldn’t stop me — or you — from considering how it all fits together, and how our understanding of it can enrich our lives.
Once upon a time, very distinguished scientists believed that the nervous system was a continuous network of uninterrupted connections — like the vascular system with its networks of veins and arteries. It seemed like just common sense, that the nervous system would also be uninterrupted, just like our veins, allowing the signals passing along our “wires” to get where they’re going in one piece.
People believed this so strongly, that Camillo Golgi, the scientist who figured out how to stain nerves so you could see them as individual pieces, rather than just another dark clump of organic stuff, devoted his entire 1906 Nobel Prize speech to explaining how it was impossible that the nervous system was made up of separate neurons.
His co-winner, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, was a proponent of the “neuron doctrine”, which held that nerves were separate cells that were connected by something, though people hadn’t figured that out, just yet. Turns out Ramon y Cajal was right — but it took decades before we had equipment that could give us a decent view of that.
Did this stop them, though? Did their obviously imperfect, partial knowledge of How Things Work stop them from moving forward in their work? Oh, no. And even when they stood the chance of being proven wrong, they just moved ahead, anyway. Even staked their reputations on it.
Looking back at the past hundreds of years of scientific discovery, as well as changes in how we view ourselves as individual humans in community with each other, I’m struck by just how dynamic our knowledge of science and self is. We are continuously changing how we think about life, how we relate to it, how we regard ourselves, and how we relate to each other. Nothing stays the same for long, but we seem to get in the habit of thinking that How Things Are Now is How Things Have Always Been. It’s not true, of course, but we tend to believe it. Especially now, when we’ve got our online echo chambers to reinforce our biases and support even our least defensible opinions.
But things change. Times change. Knowledge aggregates and opinions proliferate… and at regular (and irregular) intervals, there’s some knew “wrench” being tossed in the workings of our minds. And so we adapt. Science adapts. Society adapts. We shift and change along with our surroundings, no matter how firmly we may believe that we’re anchored in universal truths. Maybe Truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of it does.
And so it’s important — for all of us — to step out and take some chances in considering the facts of the world around (and inside) us… building an understanding of those facts that works for us and makes our lives more meaningful. Even if the science might shift in a matter of years, even if we don’t have all the answers or all the insight that more accelerated experts do, I think we have every right to avail ourselves of What We Know At This Point In Time, and use that to better appreciate and understand our world.
Even if we aren’t PhD-grade neuroscientists.
Especially if we aren’t PhD-grade neuroscientists.
It’s our world, they’re our bodies. The science has been funded by our tax dollars. And I say we have the right to understand what’s going on in there, so that we can do better at what we do out here.
I’ve been working on my latest book, Beloved Distance : The Separation that Connects Us to All, for the past year or so. Actually, I started it almost two years ago. Time flies. Especially when you get busy.
And yes, I have been busy.
Anyway, I “finished” the book a few weeks back — is a book ever finished? Hard to say. Some authors talk about “abandoning” their books, rather than finishing them. I know, for me, there’s always the temptation to add more… and more… and more. Because I think of a lot more salient details to add.
But that’s really what this blog is for.
Anyway, since I’m publishing the book myself, I needed to get a look at the print quality before I finalized everything. I needed to get a look at how the fonts came out, how the page dimensions look… Get the page numbering together. Table of contents. Sequences from chapter to chapter. Make sure there aren’t numbers on the divider pages. Check the line heights and margins.
Figure out the endnotes.
And of course give more thought to the cover design.
Not to mention, give it one last read — as an actual book — before calling it “done”.
All those last-minute details that make the project feel like it’s dragging on. But they’re very important details, so it’s important to pay attention at the very end. Especially at the end. Because that’s really the beginning of the book.
Fortunately, there’s a long weekend coming up, so I should have a chance to rest up some more and then give it a read. It’s not a terribly long book — about 150 pages, with extra spacing between the lines (which I’ll tighten up in the final version). And I’ve had a few weeks to clear my head, so I can come back to it fresh.
Fresh is good. Especially when an intense project like this is wrapping up… before launching into the world.
Okay, so that’s done.
I just updated the last two poetry books I published. It’s not difficult – just a lot of attention to detail. Changing half of your name, and then updating everything accordingly, can get a bit eye-crossing. Especially if there are ebook versions, as well as print versions. I still haven’t decided what to do about the ebooks. The name will have to change there, as well.
Just when it seems I’ve gotten everything fixed… I find something else. So, I check, and check, and double-check. Especially because I’ll be publishing to Amazon and other international distributions, which means I need to ensure everything – but everything – is pristine and perfect. Once you put an ISBN to something and publish it via international distribution, you’re locked in. So, you have to make it count.
Again, it’s eye-crossing.
I’m digging into Strange Bedfellows, now. From a logistical standpoint, the work is more painstaking, because the file is bigger and takes longer to save. Plus, it’s chock full of images, which now and then have a tendency to shift around on the page – and then throw off the page count. Fortunately, I’m working in Open Office, so the file formats are the same (No M$FT Word for me, thank you very much). Plus, Open Office file sizes are a lot smaller, so there’s less drain on my finite system resources.
And that’s always nice.
If you have the proper tools, you can do amazing things. And if you practice good attention to detail, you can really create some professional-looking products that anybody would think are commercially produced. That’s one of the benefits of having worked in publishing before — both print and digital. You pick up tips and tricks, plus you develop an eye for the kind of detail that goes into creating quality materials.
Some people think that you have to have access to money and contacts and resources, in order to produce professional-looking books. On the contrary, I’ve been doing “guerrilla” publishing since the 1980s, and some of my “amateur” works look just like what you’d find in the bookstores. If you have the desire and you keep at it and you set your sights high –and never give up till you create exactly what you want — great things are possible.
If there’s one thing I’d want people to know about putting their own writing out there, it’s that. What I said above. I’ve come across a lot of people who have either had a sour-grapes attitude (“Well, of course you made something nice – you work for a big company and have access to their equipment!”), or a sort of resigned approach (“I don’t need anything fancy, just some copies made up at the local office supplies store.”)
I disagree on both counts. First off, my books don’t look great because I use my employer’s stuff. I don’t. I’ve figured out how to either use what little I have very creatively, or I found a way to get access to the equipment I needed on an occasional basis. You don’t need to have constant access to a full-feature printer, to crank out a handful of poetry chapbooks. You can mock everything up at the local library, print it out for 10 cents/sheet, and then take it to your local copy shop to create the finished product.
If you want to publish full-length books, you can do it for free at Lulu.com. They have everything you need to publish a full-length book with a nice-looking cover, and it won’t cost you a think to set it up. You can do the pre-production work on the computers at your local library.
As for “keeping it simple” and going with a bare-bones approach… It’s so straightforward, and so possible, to produce a really nice-looking work on your own, that there’s really no reason to do without good design. All you need for inspiration and guidance, is a trip to your local bookstore or library, to see examples for best-practices in book design and layout. And then you just copy what they do.
It’s really quite simple. But a lot of people make it hard in their heads.
Far more important than expensive equipment or professional publishing skills, is a keen sense for detail and what makes a published product look — and feel — great. Once you’re clear on that, everything becomes a lot clearer.
Now… on to updating Strange Bedfellows. I’m writing a new foreword, as well as a conclusion. The story, on the surface, reads like an eco-warrior treatise about the hazards of modern living. But beneath it all, there’s more… so much more.
And there will be more to come about that. Soon.