Viktor Frankl, cat psychology, personal sacrifice…we get into it!
My cousin Ryan Pyle, happens to be one of those intrepid explorer-types. His work has been all over the place (New York Times, Discovery Channel, BBC, etc.), but little of it makes its way onto Canadian broadcasting.
When the whole Covid-19 situation hit, he found himself trapped in Istanbul–one of three guests in a 500-room hotel. Obviously an adventure unto itself.
He hosted an Instagram Live chat last Sunday where we chatted Istanbul’s veterinary practices, quarantine fever, and mental health. Good conversation with an interesting guy, we may do another one soon depending on how well sanity prevails in this current crisis.
He released the video on his YouTube channel, it’s worth checking out his stuff, especially if you’re stir crazy in your own four walls. I’m partial to his Extreme Treks series, which is streaming on Amazon Prime if you’ve got it.
…when I found my writing in a bookstore.
Even better, a used bookstore.
Signpost? Omen? Relic? Whichever, it was pretty cool. Nice to have the kids see it too.
Back in 2011, while we were expecting our second child, an idea took hold that I was really excited about. The first 20,000 words came out without any difficulty, then trickled, then stopped.
I became so stuck on the accuracy of one issue, that it shut me down for a few years. I researched the hell out of coin-flip probability. In my mind, a reader would scoff at my character’s poor study design and deem the whole thing unbelievable. The fact that it is a novel about fictional science was irrelevant. What kind of neuroscientist would run such a small n?
And so the premise lay dormant for a few years, but I couldn’t quite forget it. So instead, I enrolled at UCLA’s Extension School and tried to use the idea as the plot for a movie. Science! Research ethics! Morality! Well, I couldn’t quite get it to work. So back it went.
Until last year, when I showed the opening to a friend who demanded an ending. Like the Neil Gaiman advice:
“How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write.”
And so, I dug it out. And combined drafts. And outlined and index carded and ruminated on the whole thing.
75k. A draft, but a draft nevertheless of something quite unique that only I can tell.
The Grey Line (or terminator, or twilight zone) divides day and night. It is the point where dark and light meet. It is only visible to outside observation.
I’m sick of opinions. It seems the bane of modern existence that we are drowning in them. And so, any negligence of this bloggy venture can be interpreted as ennui of opinionation (opinion nation?), my own included.
So, in lieu of opinion, an update?
I spent a quick two days in Venice this September doing research for my ever-expanding, ever-in-progress, magnum opus. I’ve been to Venice before, but in the off season, and alas, Sigmund Freud’s visit of 1895 occurred at the end of August, so I had to brave the city in the bright glare of late summer.
This is my first go at a historical speculative project, and it was helpful to swim in the Adriatic and sip coffee at the Caffe Quadri the way Freud did. It was also good to see a few of the palazzi and landmarks that will be featured.
When I was a kid, I had a map of Maine on my wall. I’d never been to Maine, but being the Stephen King fan that I was, I’d drawn out and pinned many of the sites for his books and short stories. Maine was a fictitious fantasy world for me in those days, filled with clowns and demons and vampires. This trip to Venice had a deja vu quality as my brain tried to reconcile a fantasy and the real world.
Early in the book, there’s a scene in which Einstein nearly drowns. As it turned out, my hotel was minutes away, and I ended up walking past the location I’d written about, over a dozen times, each time imagining a teenaged Einstein going overboard, floundering in the lagoon below.
The problem with a grandiose premise is that it demands a grandiose finale. I think that it’s slowly coming into focus, but may need to make a return trip at Carnevale.
It has been some time since I updated anything, so I figured that it was time to say something, if only to prove I’m still breathing…ish.
And so, a story.
Upon reaching middle age, I took it upon myself to try to get in shape, recognizing that if it hadn’t happened by now, when exactly would it? I have never been a runner, still don’t like running, but with some support and commitment made it through a 5K last December.
So impressed with myself was I that I decided to become a triathlete. I bought a bike, and started swimming again (including briefly in Lake Ontario). I did an indoor triathlon in the winter, and then two sprint-distances (750m/30+km/5+km) this summer. Was I good? Nope, still a terrible runner! But I survived. And in surviving, I had the refreshing realization that competition, something generally absent in day-to-day adult life, is fun.
As a newly-minted competitive athlete, none were more impressed my prowess than my daughters who, for Father’s Day, took me to a local climbing gym that advertised a Ninja Warrior-style course. The hallmark being, to any Ninja Warrior fan out there, the dreaded Warped Wall.
I did the ten-foot version with ease. Then, one step into the twelve-footer, I completely ruptured my right Achilles’ tendon. Based on the response I get daily, this is the middle-aged man’s equivalent of giving birth. Everyone grimaces, then asks me just how painful it was. My answer is that shock goes a long way for dealing with pain, as I proceeded to drive myself with an impotent foot the twenty minutes to the nearest hospital. Not good judgment, don’t recommend.
The Canadian approach is generally non-operative and based on the notion that if you don’t move your foot for a few months, the tendon will reattach. I am currently on week ten and can only hope that my body is complying. Time will tell.
Along the way, the experience has sucked in ways I couldn’t have imagined beforehand. Crutches wreak havoc on one’s back, but so do fancy scooters, and one-legged showers. In cast or boot, I haven’t slept decently in months, and developed an aspirin sensitivity making my skin peel off.
And to kick me while down on the floor (I’ve developed an aversion to stairs), my laptop decided to implode and I lost a good six months of writing and revision.
I am prone to belief in silver-linings, the value of trials, or karma, but this has been a lesson nonetheless. When taken as a year, I have had the most difficult physical challenges of my life–some voluntarily and some involuntarily. And if something that has come from this, I hope it’s this:
Life is not relaxing. Life has no status quo. It is not a plateau that is reached and maintained. Life is growing or it is dying, but it is not respite in between.
There are days I long for routine again, but there’s danger there. Routine is the assumption that each day progresses like the day before. That is both incredibly fortunate and quite boring.
Once I’m done healing, I hope to be back to growing, improving, creating. And driving. Oh, how I miss driving.
I am approaching a major birthday. I wish I could say that it had me celebrating with glee, but as I have come to understand, there is a sadistic glee savored only by loved ones as they repeatedly ask: “How does it feel to turn XXX?”
This, you understand, is bait. Bait for you to deny having any feelings (to which the appropriate response is: “REALLY? But your twenties are gone!!!!”), or alternatively, to confess the internal struggle (to which the appropriate response is: “but you’re not a complete failure, you once…<insert accomplishment here>).
And in reflection, (excuse an old man’s senescence as he waxes philosophical-like about this life-journey thing) this has taught me a lot about three things: distance, velocity, acceleration.
Distance. The amount accomplished. The time passed. The change in position from start to current time. When we reflect on distance, we think back to those meaningful pitstops or accomplishments along the way. We also meet people whose self-esteem and sense of fulfillment are linked to distance. They talk about their promotion, the day their grandchild was born, the time they made the catch. Accomplishment holds the answer.
Velocity. The rate of change of accomplishment. This is the present-known. This is an intellectual appreciation that things are changing and that if they continue on their current course they will lead to more good things. For those attached to velocity, life is but a single frame in a motion picture, a note in a larger piece. These people have patience, vision, trust. They see tomorrow. They have internalized the lesson that the sun also rises, and one day at a time.
Acceleration. The rate of change of the rate of change. This is the present-felt. Anyone on an airplane or a train or moving car will remember that we don’t feel distance, we don’t feel velocity, we feel acceleration. For the person whose self-esteem is attached to acceleration, they need to have deltas of deltas. And if there is no change in the rate of accomplishment (i.e., my children are developing, my mortgage is being paid down, I am getting more experience) then there is no feeling, no satisfaction. For this group, the only pleasure is in the upswing, unsustainable as it may be. And hence, they’re mostly miserable.
And so, with any discussion of life, one will inevitably hear a game of verbal three-card monty.
The person that says she’s done nothing with her life will be told “but look ahead, things are changing!”
The person who says that things aren’t happening fast enough, will be told “but look how far they’ve come!”
And the person who has faith in velocity will smirk at them both.