Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blog.

Well, it’s that day of the week again (Thursday), when I write yet another blog post for the entertainment, and occasionally the edification, of those who want to read it.  As I did two weeks ago, I’m breaking up my author’s notes, interspersing them with less specific ramblings on my current, past, and planned writings.  Next week, I’ll continue my author’s note series, with a note on Son of Man.  Once I’ve caught up with the notes up to and including my latest published story, I plan to start periodically posting sample first chapters of my published works, as teasers to get readers interested—or, alternatively, to let them know for certain that they are uninterested—in the books and stories from which they’ll be excerpted.  This should be fun, I think, and will certainly be less work for me on those weeks when I post them.

Right now—so to speak—I’m near the completion of preparing to publish Hole for a Heart.  We at Chronic Publications are still struggling over the final form of the cover design for the story, though the basic design is already confirmed.  As those of you who have read it when it was available here know, it’s a dark story (how atypical for me, right?), but I like it a lot.  Thankfully, that’s more or less universal about my stories, and I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for the fact.  Of course, there are flaws in all of my works, and my earlier ones are less polished than those that follow, but I still enjoy thinking about them, and occasionally rereading them.  This almost always leads me to find errors that were missed in the editing process, as well as stylistic issues that I would now have changed…hopefully to improve upon them.  In the long run, I may create second editions of some books, especially the earlier ones, but that process requires time, of which commodity I am in short supply.  As is often the case (and as I think I’ve mentioned before) I frequently find myself quoting Andrew Marvell to myself: “If we had world enough, and time…”

Alas!

As is the usual case lately, I’ve been having difficulty finding new fiction that grips me enough to read, and I find this terribly depressing (it’s not the fault of the books).  Likewise, because I lost essentially everything I owned seven years ago tomorrow, I don’t have physical copies of all the hundreds of books that I’ve read and reread over the course of my life hitherto—for entertainment, inspiration, and edification.  Over time, I’m gradually trying to re-accumulate at least some of them, mainly in Kindle format, because that way I can carry my library with me wherever I go.  But even with e-book versions, to reproduce my previous library would cost a great deal of money, so it’s a piecemeal process at best.  I’m also always looking for new recommendations, and the other day on his Facebook page, Stephen King gave one for a book called The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor.  I looked up the book on Amazon—it’s available on Kindle—and it does look good.  I also like the author’s name, not that such a thing is of great importance.  Still, I can’t help playing word games, and inevitably thought of the fact that if you combined the surnames of the recommendee and the recommender, you’d get the phrase “Tudor King.”

Such are the processes that take place in my mind.

In any case, that book will likely be the next fiction book I purchase, and I’ll try to remember to let you all know how it is, once I’ve read it.

I do find myself able to read nonfiction, and I also use Audible, listening to a great deal of nonfiction on my commute to and from work.  Lately, I’ve been in Steven Pinker mode, a fact at least partially triggered by the recent release of his newest book, Enlightenment Now.  I’m currently visually reading one of his earlier works, The Stuff of Thought, about language and the human mind, and listening to his second most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.  Once that’s done, Enlightenment Now already awaits on my Audible app, and I look forward to it eagerly.

I couldn’t easily exaggerate Pinker’s value as a thinker and writer.  His books are not short, and neither are they diffuse.  He packs a great deal of information and ideas into them, but his writing style and style of thought are exceptional and engaging.  If you want a taste of the enthusiasm and fun he brings to his work, and engenders in those who come to it, watch the following video of his presentation on The Stuff of Thought at Google.  His discussion on the nature of swearing—with numerous examples explained and explored—is both hilarious and thought provoking.

 

As I think I’ve said before, reading about ideas and concepts, even rather difficult ones, isn’t merely a way for me to pass my time between reading and writing fiction.  Even if it didn’t have any other value (it does), such exploration strengthens the mind’s muscles and makes it more fit and able to perform every task to which one puts it, including the writing of fiction.  Also, I think it improves one’s skill at narrative.  When an author can take a dense and complex subject and write about it in prose that’s both gripping and clear, that style of writing is surely one from which a writer of fiction can learn many lessons.  Some stories are good enough that they can be carried along simply by the power of the plot, even if the prose is awkward, but when one can add to such stories a structure made of language both beautiful and elegant, well…that’s a spicy meatball!

I’m about a hundred years too young to consider comparing myself to someone like Pinker, or to other great writers of fiction and nonfiction alike, but that just means that I can learn a great deal from them in the meantime.  In fact, a writer/reader’s marginal rate of return is probably greatest long before he or she begins to be in the same league as the one who wrote what he or she is reading.  So, I can heartily recommend that writers read books by those who are far better writers than themselves, and as often as possible.

But, also, do read some of my books in between.  I’ll do my best to keep raising my standards.

TTFN

Walk Like A Caveman

There are many levels of irony about living in our modern, Western civilization.  One of the most striking, to me, is the fact that we find ourselves thinking that we have to “make time” for exercise.

Our ancestors–almost all of them–were never faced with this kind of problem, any more than are the millions of other species of animals living in the world.  Exercise is not a special task or chore for most creatures, it is part of the process of staying alive and being healthy.  Really, that’s what it should be for us as well.  We know that our bodies want to be used, they thrive with that use and become stronger and healthier, in general, the more active we are.  Yet, the progress of our civilization has, curiously, led us to alienate ourselves more and more from our natural, active natures.

Many of our modern conveniences were created to spare us from the “horrors” of physical labor.  Automobiles, escalators, elevators, tractors…these things are all, of course, truly remarkable and incredibly useful, but because we have them, we’ve gotten into the habit of relying solely upon them.  After only a little bit of time doing this, we realized that our sedentary, machine-driven lifestyles were often leading us to be terribly unhealthy.  Its not so much that our lives have been shortened…modern infection control, including vaccines, antisepsis, antibiotics and health codes have led us all to survive and even become unaware of the simple ailments that killed most of our forebears.  Our lives have instead been diminished, not in quantity but in quality.  It is wonderful to be able to drive hundreds of miles to see a distant relative at a moment’s notice.  It is NOT wonderful to have to drive to the corner store because we’re too out of shape to walk there.

In recent years we’ve learned that astronauts who spend very much time in space, without the need to fight gravity, rapidly lose bone density and muscle mass, and their hearts weaken as well.  To combat this tendency they have to use very clever means to engage their bodies and to keep those organs fit.  Yet we here on the ground, deep within Earth’s gravity well and not going through free-fall, often might as well be floating in orbit, for all the work we give our bodies.

Awareness of this issue has led to a huge industry of gyms, exercise equipment, supplements and how-to books about exercise.  We strive to fit time to go to the gym into our busy, modern schedules.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course…I’m all for the gym.  But you don’t have to have a membership at the expensive local health club, nor even any special equipment, to keep your body as healthy as you can.  All you have to do is live just a little bit more like your ancestors did.

So, if you have to go to the store, and it’s not that far away…walk there instead of driving.  Obviously this won’t work if you have to buy a great many groceries at one time…but maybe multiple trips with smaller hauls spread throughout your week would be a better idea for your health, anyway.

If your local store isn’t QUITE local enough to walk to, well, then drive there.  Then, instead of jockeying around for the very closest spot you can find, park at the far end of the parking lot, and walk to the store from there.  It may not seem like very much, but if that’s so, then it also shouldn’t be very much trouble.

When you’re going into a building and need to go somewhere other than the first floor, why not take the stairs?  Walking up stairs is terrific, low-impact aerobic exercise and it keeps your quads nice and strong!  Okay, if you live in New York City and need to get to the 50th floor, walking ALL the way might be impractical unless you’re a marathoner with a lot of time on your hands.  Yet, even so, you can take the elevator up to two or three floors shy of your destination and walk the rest of the way.  Then you can do the same thing on the way down, which will, after all, be quite a bit easier than going up.

Also, if you live in a good enough climate, at least part of the year…ride a bike to work sometimes instead of driving.  This won’t be great if you have a sixty mile commute each way (again, unless you’re a distance athlete and have a rather flexible schedule), but if your commute is more reasonable, then biking is a great alternative.  It saves you gas money (a big deal in our current economic climate), and it produces less carbon dioxide than does an internal combustion engine…though it DOES produce some, since that’s one waste product our bodies produce just as our machines do.

All these simple measures can keep your body healthier and keep you feeling stronger.  They will probably also make you a bit thinner and shapelier, which is nice.  Still, feeling and being healthy is far more important than being thin…as any famine victim would gladly tell you if they had the chance.

In closing, the key to being physically fit and active in the modern world–and to feeling more alive and vigorous and strong–doesn’t have to involve expensive gym memberships, aerobic classes, treadmills and weight machines.  All those things are great, and I have nothing but praise for those who discipline themselves to make their bodies as healthy as possible.  Yet, even for those without the money and/or the time for the more advanced techniques, sometimes just letting go of a few modern conveniences can make you a little more like your robust ancestors…without the worrisome threat of infection and dangerous predators with which they had to contend!

The Treatment Trap

In America today, we rely far too much on pills and on procedures–on would-be “cures” for our problems–than we really should.

It may seem strange for a medical doctor like me to be saying this, but I have insight into the issue from multiple perspectives.  I’ve been one of the doctors who falls into the trap of trying to “treat” every issue rather than prevent or solve it, and I’ve been a patient who approaches things the same way.

The irony is that a great many of the health problems we face in the modern world–especially the most rampant and devastating ones, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and their related problems and consequences–are governable simply by modifying our lifestyles.  Indeed, for many of us, these health concerns’ very existence AS problems is only CAUSED by our modern lifestyles.  I’ve already discussed in some earlier entries the mechanisms and effects of type 2 diabetes, a disorder which is becoming more and more endemic in our nation, and at younger and younger ages.  It’s absolutely clear why this is happening:  We are more sedentary and more overweight and we eat more rapidly absorbed carbohydrates than humans have ever done before in our existence.  What’s more, thanks to public health interventions and control of infectious diseases, we live long enough for these habits to matter more than they could have in the past.  We also know, quite well, many of the things that we can do to counter diabetes and its close relatives, hypertension and heart disease. Yet, instead, we allow our health to deteriorate and then rush to modern medicine to seek “cures” or at least treatments for the outcomes of our bad habits.

I suspect that this trap of habits was set for us, to some degree, by the brilliant innovation and success of antibiotics.  These are the quintessential medical cures:  When used against an infection caused by a sensitive bacteria, antibiotics actually CURE the problem (with the help of our own immune system).  To some degree anti-virals do the same, though they are more recent, and anti-parasitic agents are also analogous.

Unfortunately, most other kinds of medicines–unless you count the occasional Tylenol or Motrin to treat a tension headache or muscle soreness–don’t actually cure anything.  They simply “treat” it, governing the symptoms and consequences to some degree or other, but not addressing whatever underlying processes might be contributing to the issues.  In addition, they give the patient the illusion that the problem is now under real control.

There are, of course, times, when health problems are not soluble or easily controllable, and managing the symptoms and consequences is the very best we can do, at least for now.  So PLEASE do not think that I am advocating the elimination of Western medicine or that those being treated for chronic health conditions should just give up their pills and let nature take its course.  Yet with so many health problems, even if we have to resort to medication, we can also make lifestyle and behavioral changes that will mitigate our problems and decrease, though not always eliminate, the need for medications (and surgery, when applicable).

We all know, or should know, that taking medicine can be a double-edged sword.  Medications sometimes create new issues of their own.  The human body is an incredibly complex system–arguably the most complicated thing in the known universe, especially when you count the human brain–and when you manipulate such a  system in one way or location, unexpected consequences almost never fail to arise.  This leads to the horrible spectacle of patients receiving medication for one problem, but developing side-effects, which then need to be treated by other medications, and which cause toxicities and interactions that later have to be addressed.  The whole affair can become a vicious cycle of increasing biological chaos, like a metabolic Rube Goldberg machine.  In the elderly especially, it can sometimes be all but impossible to be certain whether new health problems are intrinsic or are caused by earlier treatments.

We try, of course, to mitigate and avoid this conundrum by studying medications as carefully as possible and learning what their possible side-effects are…but every human body is different, and that’s going to continue to be the case, since the number of possible genetically unique humans is vastly greater than the number of human beings who have ever lived.  So we can be guaranteed that the one expectation we can reliably entertain is the UNEXPECTED.

It is better by far to avoid developing problems whenever possible rather than trying to treat them.  This is true because it is simpler and more predictable, and also because it makes life better.  Rather than being a person who identifies themselves by their litany of ailments, for which they build their house-of-cards treatment regimens, we can work to maintain lifestyles that are GOOD for our health, that work with our natures, and that help us to think of ourselves as–and to feel like–healthy, vital and thriving human beings.

Medicines are indeed wonderful products of modern science and technology, and I strongly suspect that they have saved and improved many more lives than they have harmed, even despite what I’ve said above.  If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have gone into medicine.  Yet, it would be even better if we could avoid having the need for medications as often as possible in the first place.

I’m going to discussing more of this in future entries.  I’ll go into some fairly obvious lifestyle issues such as exercise and diet, but I’m also going to explore philosophical and psychological aspects of health that can make a great difference in not only how long you live, but also in how much you enjoy the time you have.

A life of a hundred years can be a tragedy and a life of a single day can be a triumph.  It all depends on what kind of life it is.