Monday, November 30, 2009

Living in all dimensions

The news brought word of a man from Belgium who was injured so severely doctors concluded he was in a vegetative state. His family and their new doctor say he really has been in a "locked-in" state for 23 years, able to perceive his surroundings and communicate — which he now does using what little movement his condition permits.

Some question whether Rom Houbens is actually "locked in" and communicating, and you can find that argument out there. It's not why I'm writing this morning.

In the ABC story where I found this news were some quotes from neurologists who explained the difference between being in a "vegetative" coma and being here.
For example, a person who is in a vegetative state and a person who is "locked-in" would both be paralyzed to some degree. Both patients would likely open their eyes and look around.

But, as Dr. James L. Bernat of the American Academy of Neurology explained, these two individuals would be considered to have two different definitions of "consciousness."

"One is called wakefulness; eyes open, eyes moving -- that element is conducted primarily by the brainstem," Bernat said. "The second dimension of consciousness requires self-awareness -- they're aware of what's going on, they can feel, they can think.

"People in the vegetative state have only the wakeful dimension," he said.

A coma would be a state of full paralysis and full unconsciousness similar to the experience of going under anesthesia. Neurologists even define a third state in people with brain injuries as "minimally conscious," which is a state of semi-wakefulness and limited self-awareness.

So ... Consider whether these descriptions apply to those of us who have not been physically paralyzed. How much of life do we spend in mere wakefulness, and how much do we spend in self-awareness? How often are we just looking around and functioning, and how often are we aware, feeling and thinking?

A few years ago I visited an optometrist because my once-20/20 vision now required reading glasses. During the course of the examination, he discovered one eye was doing most of the work for me. As a result my depth perception was very limited. He gave me a pair of glasses with a prism that forces my eyes to work together.

After a few days of adjustment, my world opened up. My eyes still regularly fall into their old habits, and often it takes a bit of concentration to see the world as it is. In my most self-aware moments, the depth perception kicks in on its own. If you have always seen in three dimensions, you may not realize how incredible it is to see from here to there, front to back, not just left to right. My left eye is the lazy one, content to let me live in two dimensions. When it's fallen back into old habits nowadays, all I have to do is say to myself, "Left eye," and the world opens up again. It just takes a pause to reorient myself.

Not long ago I felt paralyzed sitting in the day-job office, staring at a computer screen with several writing projects waiting for my attention. The office is not far from a mighty river, so I took a walk and sat down on a park bench along the water with a pen and pad. On that calm day I absorbed a peace that surpasses understanding. My mind and soul unwound and woke up.

In 45 minutes I wrote two days worth of notes and the genesis of this essay. That's the power of simply being self-aware, a power within each of us if we simply pause to look for it.

Everyday life can beat us into a state of simple wakefulness. We turn off our consciousness as we drive the same route twice a day; we surf aimlessly around Web sites; we park in front of an entertainment center to watch people play games or act out stories for us.

Self-awareness is a little daunting — you get in touch with realities like your own mortality — but you reach out for a sense of purpose. When you find that purpose and that passion, you cling to it and work toward fulfilling that purpose, often to slip back into wakefulness, which so reseumbles self-awareness but is so much less.

Assuming the doctor's claims are true, what was it like to be Rom Houbens, wanting to jump up and say "I am here! I have a life! I have purpose!" The same struggle occurs inside our minds as the merely wakeful entity wanders about, looks around, walks and talks but does not notice the sentient, paralyzed soul inside.

Sitting on that park bench, I resolved that one purpose in my life will be to stay awake and aware, to awaken and empower others. This walking-about, zombie-like existence does not have to be as good as it gets. Each of us has the spark to be more, and the spark contains the seed of true freedom, authentic liberty.

The world is an astonishing place when we focus our senses. How much more astonishing are our minds when we do the same.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Live the probabilities

"Most things I worry about never happen anyway." — Tom Petty.

You could die from swine flu. But you probably won't.

You might get killed this morning when a drunken idiot runs a red light or cuts you off on the highway. But you'll probably make it home safely tonight.

A terrorist might be on board the plane you're taking today. But probably not.

You might be laid off and replaced by an illegal immigrant. But the chances are almost zero.

In fact, the world might come to an end in 2012. But most of us very likely will live to see 2013 — and those of us who don't won't perish in a planetwide catastrophe.

Every intrusion on our freedom begins with politicians planting the seed of an improbable fear, and then cultivating it until it becomes so irrational a majority is ready to surrender a piece of liberty.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." — H.L. Mencken.

As you peruse your newspaper or Web sites, as you listen to and watch newscasts, be mindful of the percentages. Remember the truth of Petty and Mencken. Refuse to be afraid, refuse to be led to the safety of a cage — in other words, free yourself.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Life is what happens to you ...

Many of us who gather here had a friend named kyfho, who died at the end of April 2008 after a life of thoughtful reflection in the name of liberty. He comes to mind of late as I kick-start projects that I originally intended to complete in time for him to read them.

Kyfho said it's important to have a philosophy of life — perhaps paraphrasing what Shepherd Book says in his exit lines of the brilliant film Serenity: "I don't care what you believe — just believe!" I haven't necessarily completely embraced his urgency — I don't mind a little fuzziness and uncertainty — but his point was, in part, that your life will reflect the principles you believe, so it's probably important to know what those principles are.

Refuse To Be Afraid, a book based on the themes of this blog, and The Imaginary Revolution, a novel that embraces the Zero Aggression Principle as its theme, are the creations that will scream "This is what I believe. This is how I try to live my life." As such, I have embued them with too much significance; I have been reluctant to pull them together, for the same primal fear we all share: What if we were to say "This is true and important," and the vast mass of folks out there sniffed at it and said, "No, it's not. You're a lunatic. Worse: You're irrelevant."

Maybe I am. But you know, books that are never published touch no one. So I plow ahead. I've provided a taste of RTBA in an ebook (go ahead, click over there), but there's much more to say. I've gotten a podcast of the first two chapters of I-Rev done only to turn around and start over, but the arc of the tale is now in my mind and it only needs to be written down. They were going to be ready by Christmas 2008, and now I expect to offer them up in 2010. Two years too late, or right on time.

And wherever kyfho is, I hope he'll somehow enjoy the final products.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

The art of doing it

Gems that caught my eye today while browsing Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts, the best book I've ever read about getting stuff done and following dreams:

... the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.
- Harry Emerson Fosdick

Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it.
- Robert Heinlein

Quit now, you'll never make it. If you disregard this advice, you'll be halfway there.
- David Zucker


Friday, November 06, 2009

Stan, Ollie and Carlos

The footage is a delightful interlude from Way Out West. The soundtrack reinvents the sequence nicely.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Remember, remember

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The joy of making books

At this stage in its existence, Richardson & Bluhm book publishers is not doing well enough to allow its principals, or anyone else, to quit the day job. But it's sure fun making books, and fun has something to say for itself.

Given a choice of things to do Monday, I spent part of it tinkering with the existing product. I added a couple of introductory essays to our edition of Tom Paine's Letters to the Citizens of the United States, letters from 1802-1805 that are surprisingly relevant, as the young republic struggled with the pull between individual liberty and federal power.

Next I fiddled with the book that started it all, The Imaginary Bomb, a short novel that has drawn nice reviews both as a free podcast and as a stand-alone book. I've punched the package up with the (in)complete text of the unfinished sequel, The Imaginary Lover, and a sneak preview of the new novel of freedom and nonviolent resistance, The Imaginary Revolution. The revised I-Bomb becomes a great way to get up-to-date on the events of the Imaginary Era and whet your appetite for things to come. And folks who enjoyed the podcasts of the first draft of the first two chapters may be intrigued by the changes — especially the identity of the new narrator.

In the last month or so, I've branched off into the realm of classic science fiction, with an edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal tale of exploration and dinosaurs, The Lost World. The plan is to whip together two more editions that collect the other four stories of Professor George Edward Challenger. Sure, it's been done before, but not by people as nice as the Richardson & Bluhm menagerie.

The newest addition is 6 Monsters, a half-dozen of the scariest tales conjured by the great literary minds of the 19th century, including "Frankenstein," "Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and Henry James' intriguing ghost story/psychological drama "The Turn of the Screw." You might find these out there, but not under one roof.

The marvelous folks at Lulu are standing by to print these gems on demand for you, whether you want to buy single copies or stock up and get all of your Christmas shopping done in one place. Thanks for clicking through and taking a look and, if you find something you like, snatching it right up. When Richardson & Bluhm becomes a name to be reckoned with, you'll be able to say you have some of its earliest editions. Imagine that!


Monday, November 02, 2009


I've written before about how each of us is a time machine from the past. Here's another one.

It's the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. Our fifth-grade class has a substitute teacher that day. She's a very old lady from my 10-year-old perspective. It's a sunny fall day and we're not concentrating very hard on whatever the day's lesson is. (Oh, and half a world away in Great Britain, kids are checking out the newly released, second LP from that nifty new guitar band The Beatles. It won't be long ... but I digress.)

The principal sticks his nose in and announces that President Kennedy has been shot. Now, this part is fuzzy in my brain because I didn't know what the word "fatal" meant at the time - but my memory insists that the principal said the president had been fatally shot, and the old substitute teacher said, "Well, let's certainly pray that he lives ..."

In any case, after we'd settled down a bit, the old teacher started talking about the day when she was a little girl, and she was passing the train water tower when someone called down, "President McKinley has been shot!" Perhaps that's where my memory's circuits have been scrambled - perhaps the old teacher went on to talk about how everyone was praying that McKinley would survive. As it was, he lingered for eight days after being shot in Buffalo, N.Y., and then passed to the ages. President Kennedy, of course, died that afternoon. We were released early — I remember the sun shining off the face of the old Little Falls, N.J., library as I biked away from the school.

And now I pass these images secured somewhat faultily from one time machine to another — images of a New Jersey fifth-grade classroom, a railroad water tower 62 years earlier, and a feeling of children's shock and surprise to link them together. One image survives 108 years later, the other a mere 46. What intriguing time machines we are.