On the ‘loneliness kills’ myth

And here we go again, with another round of headlines on the negative impact of loneliness on health. According to the latest research loneliness can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells and increase depression and lower overall subjective well-being. It all sounds very scientific and extremely disturbing, but while I realize that there is likely to be something to all these studies, there is one rather obvious factor that I suspect plays a critical role that is hardly ever mentioned, maybe because it can be hard to quantify: the simple fact that in case of medical emergency you sometimes need someone else to call for help (and this is likely to be particularly true when it comes to the elderly who are not only more likely to find themselves facing a medical emergency, but also less likely to be attached to a smartphone or even a cell phone).

Feeling kind of meh…

Yes, I realize that things have been kind of quiet lately, but the truth is that I’ve been feeling kind of meh in these past few days. I know, not exactly a technical term but…

No, I’m not depressed, not quite, I guess adrift would be a more accurate description,  or maybe it’s just that I feel like I’m in limbo. The thing is that I’m about to take my yearly break, and I feel like I’m neither here nor there. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate having a chance to hang out with friends and family, recharge, or unwind, or whatever it is you want to call it, in fact I realize that taking a break every now and then is something I actually have to do, but at the same time there’s no getting around the fact that having a couple of weeks in which I have almost no time to write is something I find kind of unnerving. I know it’s silly, I know most people can’t wait to get away from their jobs and so on, but I enjoy what I do on a daily basis, and even though there comes a time when I start feeling like my brains are about to start dripping out of my ears, I can never quite shake the fear that once I get back to my daily routine I am going to have a hard time reconnecting with my stories, that they will have faded into the background and won’t seem quite so vivid any  more. That is more than a little scary… and to make matters worse there is also the fact that, seeing how I’m usually working on two projects at a time, I can’t really hope to line things up in such a way that the break comes at a time when I don’t feel like I’m stopping in mid-sentence in at least one of them.

Well, there is nothing I can do about it because I know I have to take a break at some point -that is a must- and I think I have timed this year’s as well as I could have hoped to, but the truth is that even though I am looking forward to having a chance to unwind, there is also a part of me that is itching to get back to work already.

In defense of Woody Allen… sort of

I have to admit that my first response upon reading Dylan Farrow’s open letter was a rather inappropriate one: I found myself thinking ‘who does she think she is? Bush?‘ As I said, not the most appropriate, or charitable, of responses under the circumstances, but the thing is that while I have no way of knowing whether or not her allegations are true, I found her attitude of ‘if you are not with me you are against me’, and her assumption that the fact that one of the most influential filmmakers of the past half century -a man who is fast approaching eighty, and who was never charged with a crime, let alone convicted- was being presented with a lifetime achievement award was all about her to be more than a little jarring.

No, I’m not denying that her hurt is real, nor am I denying that she is convinced that what she is saying is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In fact I’m not even denying the possibility that the events may have unfolded just like she says they did. I wasn’t there, so I can do nothing but speculate. What I do know is that our memories are seldom as reliable as we like to think they are, so I can’t help but to feel that her story -a story I personally feel has a few too many holes to be entirely believable- shouldn’t be enough to damn the man… especially not in light of the climate of hatred that is likely to have permeated the Farrow household at the time, a climate of hatred that seven-year old Dylan wouldn’t have had the means to recognize, defend against, or escape. Continue reading In defense of Woody Allen… sort of

One month, zero accidents, and a shaken-up worldview

All my life I had been told that homeopathy was little more than quackery, and even though I had never really tested that claim, well, the assumption did seem commonsensical enough… and then my thirteen-year-old dog started developing a number of health issues. As a responsible dog owner I took her to the vet, and when a new problem developed I took her back again, and again, and again. In short, I was receiving a different diagnosis each week as the vet vivisected her diagnosing what was wrong with this organ and with that one, utterly forgetting the fact that there was just one dog. It was frustrating, so much so that in the end I decided to contact a homeopathic vet. No, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of treatment, but I needed someone who would look at the whole dog and at least try to see if all those issues had a common cause… one that might enable me to go back to my vet and maybe get her to treat the underlying problem.

The vet came and went, leaving behind a diagnosis for a hormonal imbalance and a couple of remedies I didn’t particularly trust. Still even though I was rather skeptical, I decided to give them a shot.

Anyway, one of my main concerns had to do with the fact that she had become incontinent. Seeing how she’s usually with me as I write, that was a problem, especially because I didn’t want to punish her for being sick by kicking her out of what had always been ‘her spot’ (though I didn’t particularly relish the idea of sitting on a poodle of pee either). It was, in short, a symptom that was incredibly annoying, readily apparent and easily measurable… notice the past tense.

Yes, to my surprise the thing worked like a charm. It’s been one month and two days since that visit, and one month since she last had an accident (they used to happen a couple of times a day before). I don’t understand why it worked, I know common sense says it shouldn’t have, but no matter how I look at it I can’t deny the evidence of my own eyes, nor can I attribute the changes to a placebo effect because the bottom line is that she has no way of knowing that the treat she gets a couple of times a day has a few drops of a homeopathic remedy added to it. She’s a DOG for crying out loud!

In other words, it’s a puzzle, one I can’t quite make sense of, but at the same time I have to admit that I am incredibly grateful for how things turned out, and by the fact that I was able to preserve her quality of life without sacrificing mine.

Lucky

I was reading an article about the importance of balancing things we have to do with things we want to do, things that bring us pleasure and things that give us a sense of accomplishment. The thing is that the article treated these as a sort of dichotomy, and that felt so alien. It may be a little thing but it was enough to make me realize just how lucky I am because the truth is that I don’t have to seek that balance, as writing brings me pleasure and it gives me a sense of accomplishment. No, it’s not the most financially rewarding of jobs, but it sure pays in a different way!

Technical difficulties may cause some delays

ARGH! Okay, so I had said that we had a tentative release date for book three of Citlalli, and that that date was late July/early August of this year, now it looks like that may have to be pushed back to March of next year. The book itself is coming along nicely, but this is due to some circumstances beyond my control. I am doing my best to remedy the situation and find some sort of a workaround, if I can things will probably go back to their original schedule, if I can’t I will probably wind up publishing a whole bunch of books simultaneously, as Citlalli is not the only one that would be delayed.

What can I say, human stupidity just got in my way.

Professional… sort of

A couple of days ago a friend pointed out that this blog is getting to be a little too personal, and that I should at least try to keep things professional. In other words, it was a ‘can the dog talk’ kind of advice. In a way I can see where she’s coming from. I realize that this blog is supposed to be about promoting my books, and that some of the things I’ve been writing about lately do little to add to my professional image, but there’s a reason why I called this blog ‘Message in a Bottle’ and the subtitle reads ‘random thoughts cast into a sea of voices’. As I’ve said countless times:

yes, I would love for my books to sell -and I won’t deny that getting the word out about the fact that they actually exist is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place- but the bottom line is that I write because I love writing, because there’s a story stuck between my ears itching to get out… and because I want to be able to read how that story ends.

In other words, if things seem a little unprofessional to you at times, I’m sorry, but this blog was always meant to inhabit that odd in between space, and I really don’t see that changing any time soon.

Do I really want to take charge?

Er… yes… this blog seems to be going to the dogs, or at least to one dog. A rascal that came into my life a few months ago, and seems to require a lot of attention, to be accurate. I am a long time dog owner, and while up until now all of my dogs have been rescues, this little fellow is different in that he wasn’t born a stray. Oh, we are getting along great, but I will be the first one to admit that he can be a bit of a handful. There are some bad habits I’m trying to break, but I admit that there is a point in which I am hesitant when it comes to discipline, or maybe I should say obedience.

The thing is that I acknowledge that my dog is a living, breathing being with a will of his own, and I don’t want to do anything that would change that.

Sure, I would love to have a well behaved dog and all that -especially when we are out in public- but at the same time I realize that dogs don’t have an on off switch, that the price I would have to pay for a well behaved dog in public is part of the spirit of the dog I fell in love with in private… not to mention that some of the advice seems to make no sense, not to me anyway.  A perfect example of this is the expected walk etiquette. They tell me that my dog should walk sedately by my side, if not behind me… and that he most definitely shouldn’t be on the brink of dislocating my shoulder whenever he catches a glimpse of another dog. Good luck with that!

The thing is that, as far as I am concerned the whole point of taking him out for a walk is to give him a chance to enjoy himself, to sniff around, lift his leg and so on… not to mention that the normal walking speed of most dogs is greater than a human. In other words, getting him to behave like he is supposed to would defeat the whole purpose of taking him for a walk in the first place. It would go from something I do for him so that he can have a chance to act like a dog and interact with others of his kind, to being just another excuse for me to assert my control over him, his own needs be damned.

Oh, I know in the end we’ll work the kinks out of the system, that eventually he will come to understand when he should listen to me, like my other dogs have, but the bottom line is that even though he likes to challenge me, he is playful, full of energy, smart and he enjoys outsmarting me, I wouldn’t trade him for the world.

No, he is not going to be winning any obedience contests any time soon, but even though I’ve been told time and time again that some obedience training will do him a world of good, and make him a better pet, the one thing I can’s stop thinking about is, if at the end of the day I don’t agree with that statement, will there be a way for me to undo the damage? What can I say, I’d rather have him kill the occasional shoe than be responsible for crushing his soul.

… But I want you to play with me…

So here I am, trying to write something for my blog -a blog that’s been feeling kind of neglected- but staring up at me is one of my dogs, the sad remains of an old shoe in his mouth, looking at me as if saying  ‘but I want you to play with me’. It is a familiar scene (one that may have something to do with why my blog’s been feeling so neglected in the first place), but I can’t help myself. Yes, the pros say I should be in control, that I should establish myself as the pack leader, that I should decide the day’s activities and so on. The problem is that, truth be told, I’d rather be playing with him too, it’s just that I have this silly notion that tells me I should be doing something else.

I look at my dog once more, decide that he’s the one that’s got his priorities straight, so I type a few words, and chase after him.

And we have a (tentative) release date for the third book of Citlalli!

Remember how on my recap of 2013 I mentioned that I had one book being revised? Well, that one is the third book of the Citlalli series and, if everything goes according to plan, it should be out in the last week of July/first week of August!

I have to say that the fact that it is in a readable form and with a possible release data clearly established is a relief because that is one that did give me quite a bit of trouble. In fact it is nowhere near what I thought it would be when I first started toying with the idea a few eons ago!

Oh, and i case you were wondering, chances are that Citlalli is going to be a tetralogy… or maybe it would be more accurate to describe is as a trilogy with a twist.

And in the end 2013 was a pretty good year

Another year is behind us and in hindsight I have to say that it was a good one.

  • I published six books (one revision, three translations and two new ones).
  • I began work on three new ones (one of those is being revised, while the other two are in the rough draft stage, though they seem to be coming along nicely).
  • I read 126 books.
  • I did my best not to forget three languages.
  • I allowed my curiosity to get the best of me at times.
  • and best of all, I adopted a dog (or maybe I should say he adopted me)

No, it was not the year in which I found commercial success (in fact that was one of the things I didn’t even try for), but in the end that doesn’t matter.

 

Trying to get back in the rhythm of things without much success

Okay, so these past few days haven’t exactly been productive, as I have been trying to figure out what am I supposed to do with my site going forward. No, it’s not going anywhere, not of I can avoid it, but at the same time I realize that there may well be some issues, as I am effectively stuck with a really crappy host I’m convinced is nothing but a scam… and seeing how getting a refund (even a partial one) out of these people is not an option, I am effectively being held hostage. Anyway, I want you to know what’s going on, in case the site goes down, even temporarily (I’ll try to prevent it, and to prevent or at least minimize any potential loss of data, but at the same time I realize that they are unlikely to be happy about these posts, and there is a very real possibility that they may choose to retaliate. Yes, I have paid my hosting fees, but I don’t exactly expect anything remotely resembling an ethical behavior out of them).

Well, the good news is that while I did fall for their ‘unlimited hosting’ scam (for the record, my bandwidth usage for the month is well below 5 GB, and I still got taken off line for using too many resources) I didn’t fall for it when they asked me to transfer my domain to them for free, meaning that, even if the site goes down for a while, the site will effectively remain my site. The legacy zones are safely backed up, and I’m trying to keep a relatively up-to-date backup of the blog’s database… annoying as that is in light of the obstacles GreenGeeks has put in my path when it comes to doing that.

A limited view of ‘unlimited’

And just a little update on my problems with my ‘unlimited’ host (that would be greengeeks). Since my site was taken off line for the better part of an afternoon with no previous warning whatsoever for using too many resources last week I have been keeping a closer eye on things (I had assumed that ‘unlimited’ meant that I could relax, or that they would let me know if there was a problem…I learned the hard way that that wasn’t anywhere near the case).

So far I have managed to get the number of spam comments being posted down to zero (the problem was caused largely by excessive spammer activity), but given that the site is already in those spammers’ databases, the fact that they can no longer post hasn’t really had much of an impact on my resource usage yet (and I don’t know if it ever will, as getting deleted from those databases is likely to be all but impossible). Still, the most interesting thing was a little tidbit I came across as I checked my resources usage statistics, as it made crystal clear just how ‘unlimited’ is defined: 256 MB per day.  I am including a series of screengrabs showing not just the limitation notice, but also some additional details about my data usage for the month (the site was restricted on the 12th).

Resource usage restrictions

Daily usage statsDecember stats

That means that, at least as far as greengeeks is concerned, ‘unlimited’ translates into between seven and eight gigabytes per month tops (as traffic varies from day to day, that would be if you reach the resource limit on a daily basis without ever going over it, and that’s not likely to be the case). Assuming that these restrictions are close to the industry standard, I have to say that it is a pretty rotten deal. In fact, with the exception of the most limited of starter plans, few metered packages restrict you to less than 10 GB per month… the problem is that most of the hosts that used to offer rollover bandwidth have either gone out of business, or they have converted to an ‘unlimited’ service… and yes, I am incredibly frustrated by this whole mess (and by the fact that while greengeeks  offers free migrations to entice new customers, it disables the ‘Backup Wizard’, making it that much harder for existing customers to move away, or even take the most basic precautions to ensure their data’s safety).