I love when this happens. I woke up this morning with the solution to the sticky problem I’ve been having with a manuscript I’d all but given up on.
I started a novel back in 2015. This was for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) during that November. And I was making good progress with what I felt was a really interesting storyline. It’s basically the tale of a woman who meet one of her college friends after 30 years of almost no contact, and notices some striking difference in the way she behaves and interacts with everybody around her. It’s about how we connect (ha – no surprises there) and how we perceive others (and ourselves), when we learn new things about them.
Of course, I had to throw in some technology too… so the main character is one of the founders of a startup that’s struggling to finalize it working proof of concept for investors. There’s tension there, too — generational tension, programming languages conflict, even a bit of Emacs vs. Vi contention. How could I resist? 😉
Anyway, I was making really good progress with manuscript some four years ago, and I was sure I was going to be able to get it done by the end of November.
But, of course, life had other ideas, and I ended up getting stalled during the last third of the book. Actually, it wasn’t just life that stalled me, it was the technology piece that I was writing about. At the time, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the company’s fictional approach. I thought I understood the underlying issues the company was aiming to solve. But the more I got into it, the more I realized I didn’t know. And the less confident I felt writing about that whole piece of it.
It wasn’t something I could fake, without undermining the whole premise of the book.
It’s tricky, right? If you’re going to write about something, you’d better know more than a thing or two about it. You can’t write a novel about dogs if you really aren’t familiar with canine characteristics, behaviors, and all the things that make dogs… dogs. Likewise, you can’t really write about technology if you don’t understand it, especially if you’re writing about a company that’s developing an innovative product that’s going to solve a sticky problem for an entire industry.
That derailed me pretty well, so I tucked the manuscript and my notes into a couple of manila folders and put them on a book shelf where I wouldn’t lose sight of them, but they wouldn’t get in my way. Every now and then, I’d look over at the shelf with a sense of longing… and then get back to what I was doing.
But this morning when I woke up, I found a way through. I realized I could write much better about a completely different type of technology that’s much more familiar to me, and which I really doknow inside and out. I understand the ins and outs, the persistent issues, as well as the opportunities a better solution would provide. Heck, I even built a similar solution over 10 years ago, when I was noodling around with some ideas I had.
So now I can take a step back, rewrite the technical pieces, and really flesh out that part of the story in a muchmore satisfying manner.
The main thing is that I do justice to the story, as well as readers. The last thing I want to do is insult anybody‘s intelligence, and I also don’t want to overreach if I don’t know what I’m talking about it. Some people can fake it, but I’m a terrible liar, and anyway, I’d just as soon write about something I’m intimately familiar with.
So, now I can go back to work on my novel. I’m probably a lot closer to finishing it than I think I am.
A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.”
The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our lives any time soon.
Francken and Slors describe a disconnect between neuroscience research and everyday life, which they dub the ‘translation problem’. The root of the problem, they say, is that while neuroscience uses words drawn from everyday experience – ‘lying’, ‘love’, ‘memory’, and so on – neuroscientists rarely use these terms in the usual sense. Instead, neuroscientists will study particular aspects of the phenomena in question, using particular (often highly artificial) experimental tasks.
As a result, say Francken and Slors, the neuroscience of (say) ‘love’ does not directly relate to ‘love’ as the average person would use the word:
I’m personally intrigued by this rising question, because I’ve been studying neuroscience since 2007, when I accidentally/on-purpose came across the autonomic nervous system as an extremely elegant explanation for why so much stuff happens and why people do what they do.
I’ve personally been able to use my continuously evolving understanding of neurobiology and neuroanatomy to approach life in a very different way from most — and consequently, my experiences have differed substantially from what I see others experiencing. I’m probably one of the happiest, most self-directed, independent people I know, and I manage to find solutions to things that stump a lot of folks. And yes, neuroscience plays a significant role, informing my approach and giving me insights I can actually use to sustain my 26-year marriage, stay continuously employed even through brutal economic downturns, have a perfectly fine house in a lovely town, and basically have more satisfaction and purpose in my life than a lot of people dream possible.
I wish, quite frankly, that I could bottle what I’ve found/developed and make it widely available, but time… and energy… not to mention the fact that people manage to find enough solace in their devices and distractions, that it takes their minds off the troubles they could be otherwise solving (or avoiding in the first place). Ah, well… People make their choices, and there you have it. As for me, I’ve got… science! (Can you hear Thomas Dolby singing? I can.)
But this isn’t about me. It’s about neuroscience. And frankly, I really believe that anybody who’s willing to put in the work and learn and grow, can have the same — if not more. I haven’t even fully pushed the envelope on my own capacity. I have this constant sense that I’m capable of more, and in all honesty, I get a little impatient with myself for not taking things up as many notches as I’m sure I could.
So, that’s what I’m going to do with this blog — bump things up a notch and dive into territory that A) I’m supposedly not professionally qualified to expound upon, and B) the general public blithely ignores, to their own peril… not to mention to the detriment of us all. I’ve been studying the human system since I was in grade school, and I haven’t stopped, even when my work building technology (that you probably use on a regular basis: you’re welcome) ate into my time and attention.
I’m writing a book — Beloved Distance: The Separation that Connects us to All. It’s about our neurology. It’s about our world. Most of all, it’s about how we can join the two to make more sense of the lives we inhabit — and the connections we create.
It draws on the time-honored tradition of finding correspondences… analogies… metaphors… to build a framework of understanding where we’re at, how we get here, and most importantly of all, how we can get to where we really want to go — a world where we can feel like we belong, where we can know that we count, and where our differences aren’t liabilities, but assets.
I’m working my way through posting excerpts of Strange Bedfellows on this site. The book seems even more apropos now, than ever before, so I’m working my way through it. I hope people will come to understand the underlying message that transcends the story itself. There’s a lot in there. I’ve had 25+ years to think about it, and trust me, I don’t waste time thinking about stuff that has no purpose.
Since the election, there’s been a tremendous amount of dismay, cries for justice, and demands to know “How Can This Happen?”
There’s been a palpable change in the atmosphere. I’m not one to be alarmist, or call out people who stereotypically seem inclined to mis-behave towards others not like themselves (that would be straight, white, middle-class men). But on my conference calls at work, I notice a different tone in the discussions. Men who used to take their turn in the conversations are now dominating. And the way they dominate has changed, as well. Their tone is more imperious, while the things they have to offer are somehow less sophisticated than before.
Then again, maybe they’re just having bad days. Maybe they’re nervous, along with all of us, and that’s how they work it out. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I’m more sensitive these days, than usual. (Aren’t we all?)
But something feels different.
It feels like we’ve regressed.
Now, mind you, I’m not one of these pie-in-the-sky Obama’s-presidency-made-it-all-better kind of libbral. I’ve never believed we live in a post-racial America. Impossible, is what comes to mind, when I hear people suggest that. It’s hard for me to trust the professed open-mindedness of privileged and entitled individuals, no matter how well-meaning they may be, no matter how closely they may hew to the more genuine side of that fine line that separates “PC” behavior from true consideration and respect for others different from themselves. It takes a lot to earn my queer trust, my intermittently disabled confidence, my inherently marginalized regard.
Maybe I’m just too cynical. I’ve been battin’ around on this planet for 50-odd years, and maybe my experiences have hardened me. I’ve seen a lot of positive change in the past decades, but I must admit, I don’t expect much. Not from the mainstream, no matter how its members may cast themselves in ally roles in the grand screenplay of my life. People become strangely aloof, when they risk losing something they prize, just because they’re seen with you. Most of all, I’ve been suspect of the supposed normalization of same-sex marriage, nationwide. It’s one thing for my current home state of Massachusetts to legalize and recognize my 26-year committed, monogamous relationship (i.e., allow me to visit my partner in the hospital and help make critical healthcare decisions for her, as well as let me transfer along to her the finances she’s helped me build). But expecting the law of the land to win over the rest of the bright-red country, and warm the cockles of the hearts of the heartland… Yeah, not so much.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to believe. I want to know to the marrow of my bones that people can and will choose dignity over disgrace, and that they truly are capable of change. And I was starting to believe — just a little bit more — when all the polls showed Hillary Clinton well in the lead, and everyone was pretty much taking for granted that she was going to win over her opponent.
But now this. Now the results of the election — which, if you’re paying attention, are so suspect that they bar even the faintest appearance of legitimacy. We were hacked. Repeatedly. And not just during the November election time. For months, it’s been going on. Our national security authorities have said so. Cybersecurity experts say so. And the results from the digital voting machines in counties that had no paper backups don’t even resemble the results of counties next door which had paper ballots as well.
Why are we surprised that the results came out so different than 96.875% of the official pollsters predicted? Why are we surprised at the suggestion we might have been hacked? Why would we doubt it? It just seems so obvious to me. And yet, the disbelief and denial have flowed like rancid milk from a carton dropped on the kitchen floor after it was left in the fridge during a 2-week power cut. Following that disbelief and denial about the kind of world we live in has come a steady stream of calls for normalization from all sides.
People who still believe that “love trumps hate” — and who don’t seem to get that giving your opponent airtime by using his name in your #1 slogan is not a great way to diminish his impact.
People who just want to accept things as they are and move on.
People who can’t fathom just how bad things can get for this country, thanks to the events of this month, and who can’t wrap their minds around the idea that America’s democracy – of all places – could fall to a fascist coup.
People who want to make the best of things, build bridges, find the good in whatever situation comes.
People who don’t want to rock the boat — and end up on somebody’s list that gets them “disappeared”.
In moments like this, I despair. Because this is really nothing other than realpolitik, plain and simple — the cold, hard facts of political practicalities, and what happens when you ignore them. And so many reactions after that obvious travesty of an election result have treated it like it was a final sentence. A done deal.
People, this is not over. The Electoral College still has to vote. Heck, our popular election was really just an indicator of which way the Electors should vote. There’s no guarantee they’re going to give it to Trump, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they caved and did just that. On top of it all, there are untold numbers of existing and potential legal suits to raise against the prematurely-declared “President-Elect”, despite the insipid sycophanty of people who only a few weeks ago were questioning the mental health of that individual.
My point is, we’re way too quick to just cave. We’ve come a long way from the original settlers (who were no saints, themselves), to the political hothouse flowers we are today. I would imagine the earth above our founding fathers’ (and mothers’) graves is mighty churned up, right about now.
What’s happened to us? Are we really that weak, really that brittle, really that passive, that all it takes is a surprising show of strength (about things which we had every reason to expect)? Why so timid? Why so quick to roll over? It’s like in the quote above, from the online book WAR AT HOME: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It, our progressives simply doesn’t seem to have what it takes to stand up and fight for themselves — or the rest of us — or to even realize that it takes more than eight years of an African-American president to prove America is over its backwards ways.
Thing is, we just can’t seem to figure out how to instill lasting change in our world. Especially from the left. We have some wins, and we shout “Hooray! All better now!” and urge everyone who’s still smarting from the burn of institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and bigotry of all kinds, to just move on. Deal with it. See? We’re so much more evolved now.
Except we’re not. Not even close. We’ve managed to plaster over the cracks in the structurally unsound lath and whitewash the walls, but the cracks are still there, and the house is still shaky. We’ve managed to make some symbolic gestures that show how much cooler we are with people of color, disabled folks, queers, women, and so forth, and we know how to talk in terms that don’t instantly offend. But the underlying foundation of all this… bullshit… well, that hasn’t actually changed.
And so we find ourselves back in the same goddamned situation as before — only each time, it seems worse. And it is worse. Because while you were celebrating our post-racial world and congratulating yourself for reading writers of color, the KKK was still demonstrating in Lancaster, PA. Disabled folks (especially non-whites) were still getting shot and killed by police officers. Shooters were still stalking law-enforcement and executing them. And no, the Recession is not over. Not by a long shot.
You want a revolution? Then quit talking. Look to the long game. See the ways in which you can extend the significant changes throughout your life. And for God’s sake, don’t just do it because all of a sudden, you got scared or intimidated or had a wake-up call… and then forget all about it, when you start to feel better about yourself and your choices.
Change isn’t something you can instigate, and then leave to flourish on its own. It takes work, it takes commitment, it’s a fucking boring slog much of the time, and thankless most of the time… and unless we keep after it, it cannot last.
So, enough of the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Whatever caused this shit-show, it didn’t just happen overnight. And it’s not going away anytime soon.