Archive for November, 2012

Two Quick Parenting Tips

Yesterday my daughter got her first batch of vaccinations, because we’re strong believers in the power of herd immunity. Go vaccines! When all the shots were done my wife was told the baby might suffer some discomfort or feverishness, and if she did to give her some Acetaminophen (aka Tylenol). We got a handy little chart showing recommended dosages for two available concentrations of Acetaminophen, 32 mg/1 ml and 160 mg/5 ml. The dosages for the former are in milliliters, for the latter in teaspoons.

I hadn’t seen this chart before I hit the first pharmacy yesterday. I was acting only on a text from my wife asking me to pick up some children’s liquid Acetaminophen. So I go to Target, get the box marked “infant” rather than “2-11 years” and pick the grape flavor because they all taste the same flavor of chemical sweet yuck anyway. I bring this box home, show it to my wife, and get sent immediately back out because the chart lacked 0-5 month dosing information for the 160/5 concentration, suggesting only only get the 32/1 concentration.

Some people already know where this story is going.

Out I go. First stop is CVS, the nearest drug store to the house. My logic is that they would have a better selection of children’s medications than a grocery store. And they do. They, in fact, have children’s Acetaminophen in two locations in the store, but only in the 160/5 concentration. Nowhere do they have 32/1. At this point I bail and head towards Babies R Us. Surely they would have a full selection of medications in any and all concentrations. Again, no 32/1, only 160/5.

Now I’m in a panic, but I finally examine the chart more closely. Looking at the different dosages, specifically down the chart where it says children ## months and up should get 5 ml of 32/1 or 1 tsp of 160/5. I pull up the calculator on my phone. The nI pull up the unit converter. And then I go home after an hour of panicked wild goose chasing. So if I can offer two quick bits of parenting advice so that you can learn from my mistakes:

160/5=32.

1 tsp ≈ 5ml.

Right down the chart it gave dosages in two different units that are a rounding error apart. For two concentrations that were actually the same concentration, just one with the fraction reduced. Sadly, I was in a panic because I was certain my baby was in pain, and the math portion of my brain utterly failed me. But…that’s fatherhood, I suppose.

Next week I start two weeks of stay-at-home fatherhood as I bridge the gap between my wife’s maternity leave and the baby starting day care. I’m hoping to get some work done on two short stories during her various naps, and perhaps start in on a secret project running around the back of my head. It involves the World Building Earth series, which is the most I’m comfortable saying right now as it may not even happen.

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World Building Question: Where’s Your God Now?

This is not a blog about religion. It’s a blog about writing and whatever else I want to write about. I don’t talk about religion on this blog. However, as we look at building a world and its society and cultures, it’s sometimes necessary to talk about talking about religion. Which is what I’d like to look into today. What is your culture’s religion, how did it grow, and how is it implemented? Primarily, I’d like to focus on four words: polytheism, henotheism, monolatry, and monotheism. If those middle two terms are unfamiliar, they were to me as well. They were coined by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and popularized by Max Müller. If you don’t know the words, I suspect you’ll recognize the underlying notions.

First, let’s back up and acknowledge our societal biases. That’s really an essential starting point. Most of the readers of this blog, whatever their individual beliefs, come from societies where most religious adherents are monotheistic. As such, we tend to think of religions as existing in one of two primary states: monotheistic and polytheistic. These western biases also push us towards the idea that monotheism is somehow more socially evolved. We call a lot of polytheistic religions “pagan,” lumping them together under that one broad term that really is a catch word that comes out of Judeo-Christian rhetoric.

In a way I’m going to pile on with that cultural bias by talking about moving from polytheism to monotheism. This is not to imply it’s the correct direction. However, it does represent the direction early adherents of what became the three major Abrahamic faiths moved, and presents a wider range of options when we’re determining just what the societies and characters we build believe and why. This is also all deistic religion, religions with gods. Religions surrounding shamanism or spirits will have to wait for some other time.

One last bit of ass covering. I’m going to talk about these things in the context of the Greek gods. This does not mean that the Greeks went under the stages that I’m presenting, only that I’m choosing a recognizable pantheon for hypothetical examples.

Wow. Alright, three hundred words in, and I feel my ass now sufficiently covered against a theological flame war in my comments. So let’s look at the four stages of divinity.

Polytheism. Most people have a handle on this stage. This is the Greek pantheon. Today is a beautiful day so I will offer my thanks to Zeus. Tomorrow I undergo a sea voyage, and so I will sacrifice a goat to Poseidon. My nation is at war, and so I will entreat Ares to see our armies to victory. Under polytheism there are multiple gods, often with a patronage system defining which god oversees which aspect of life or the world. There is often a hierarchy within these gods that includes power struggles and politics, and frequently a family tree. It’s important to note that a polytheistic individual is not just acknowledging multiple gods, but is actively worshiping multiple gods. This is an important distinction as we move through the categories.

Henotheism. Here things are getting a little more specific. A henotheistic adherent to the old Greek gods would acknowledge the entire pantheon, and even that it’s appropriate for others to worship their choice of god or gods within that pantheon. But with Henotheism we’re getting into a dedicated cult of Athena. Henotheistic individuals or societies will choose just one god within a broader pantheon to worship, forsaking all other gods. They may still recognize the hierarchy of gods within the pantheon, and the validity of worshiping these other deities, but they are devoted only to their individual god of choice.

Monolatry. Now we’re moving one step further. I have formed a cult of Athena, and while I recognize that Athena is just one of a multitude of gods, I believe that she is the only god anyone should worship. We’re now moving into a territory where the individual is no longer respectful of the choices of others to worship the god or gods of their choice. Sure, there are other gods out there, but only the worship of my particular god is the true way towards religious enlightenment.

Monotheism. Last step along the path. Not only is the worship of my god the only true way towards religious enlightenment, my god is the only god. No others exist. Any other proclaimed “god” is falsely divine or an idol.

Looking at this broadly, it’s likely that a society as a whole (assuming religious uniformity) is going to be polytheistic or monotheistic. However, individuals within a polytheistic society have the potential of being henotheistic or monolatristic. The best example that comes to mind is Dungeons and Dragons. The society as a whole is polytheistic, there is a very clear pantheon of gods who frequently have direct interaction with the people of the world. However, most characters with a divine build tend to be either henotheistic or monolatristic, depending on the heat of their particular religious fervor.

I’d like to briefly acknowledge one other deistic option. Monism. Monism is an odd duck. From the inside the religion is monotheistic, from the outside it appears polytheistic. This is the view, as typified by Hinduism, that there are multiple divine forms or avatars, but that they are all aspects of one god.

Clearly things can get more complex as the writer desires. There are examples within human experience that hybridized polytheism and monism. Which is to say that there is a vast pantheon of gods, and that some of these gods (Zeus is an actual example this time, not a hypothetical one) may take multiple, distinct forms. Religion is far more complex concept than these five terms. Theologians far more knowledgeable than I have had extensive debates about whether Christianity is strictly monotheistic, or if it represents monism or monolatry. I’m not having that debate here or now. I’m merely presenting these terms as a fantastic place to start when determining the beliefs of your society writ large or your individual characters.

During most of the history of religion in western civilization, movement trended down the chart. This isn’t to say societies only move in one direction. In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh Amenhotep IV moved the society from a henotheistic or monolatristic worship of the sun god Aten and pushed for monotheism, but his son Tutankhamen returned the pantheon and reasserted Egypt’s polytheism. However, the general momentum towards monotheism means that most radicals within societies were the ones that pushed in that direction. Even in the case of King Tut, he only reasserted an existing pantheon. We are now so accustomed to a monotheism that I’m not sure we would know as a society where to move if we were to return to polytheism. Ignoring that the path of western society, if it is moving at all, is from monotheism to atheism, trying to imagine a monotheistic society where polytheism is reemerging is intriguing. If western culture moved back up the scale, recognizing first the existence, then validity, of gods beyond the God of Abraham, what would that look like? Would it be an old pantheon reasserting itself into society, or a new pantheon being crafted? Does it grow out of the veneration of saints? These are the questions just within Judeo-Christian society.

Within your society, what would cause movement in the “wrong” direction on the course “towards” monotheism? What, if anything, maintains the status quo? Who are the renegades? The zealots?

If religion is going to be a core within your society, these are all important questions to ask and have answers for. Even if religion isn’t going to be a core issue of the story, if your society does follow a deistic religion, it’s important to at least have a notion of where it fits within categories, or how it straddles or breaks with categories.

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An Open Letter…

…To Crash Course World History

Dear Crash Course World History,

Why you gotta end?

I suppose I understand when presenting history as a narrative, eventually you’ll get to the modern day and have nowhere to go. Sure, you could fill in subjects you missed, like the Vikings. Which I guess would be fun and all. But the appeal of your videos is that you presented history as a story, something that has characters and settings, not figures and geography. Perhaps that’s what happens when it’s taught by a novelist rather than my school teachers.

I’m gonna be honest with you. I didn’t like history much in school, largely because every school would focus on this person did this thing on this day and you have to regurgitate all those things for the test next week then fill in a map showing where Anatolia and the North Sea are. There was no emphasis on making history interesting or accessible. So I went through life knowing that Rome was a thing, that the Renaissance saved civilization, and George Washington made America. Go team Western Civilization! Then I found the videos, as I suspect most did, through Vlogbrothers and Swoodilypooper football. However, I was not expecting to get so swept in. Not to a point that I would watch each episodes multiple times to make sure that I got them, or that I would do a massive watch of the whole thing to lead up to the last episode so that I could see the overall narrative.

And I certainly didn’t expect what happened about halfway through. I started looking for more history. Craving it. I’ve now sat through Columbia University courses on World History, University of Houston courses on the Crusade, NYU courses on ancient Israel, all things available on YouTube. I’m listening to a podcast series on The History of Rome on my commute every morning, and have lined up two different podcast histories of the Byzantine Also-Roman Empire. Now, I don’t know if I found Crash Course World History at a time I was particular open to rediscovering history, or if you caused it, but either way you’ve been an instrumental jumping off point. Through you I discovered the eras that I wanted to know more about, and I went out and found more. Then I shared you with my wife, and hope to one day show your videos to my daughter, currently 9 weeks old.

So here, at the end of this 42 week journey, I just wanted to voice my thanks to John Green and his high school history teacher Raoul Meyer. To producer and director Stan Muller. To script supervisor turned associate producer Danica Johnson. To intern turned script supervisor Meredith Danko. To the graphics team at Thought Bubble. And, really, to everyone else that had anything to do with the production of the series for awakening in me a love of the subject.

Next week I see you start Crash Course Literature, another subject that I didn’t enjoy much in school. Stupid teachers never wanting to teach the books I wanted to read. I’m with you for that journey, too.

I’m just worried that one might involve more homework.

Best wishes,

David Thurston.

Oh, and for those reading this letter who haven’t watch the series, it starts here.

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Baby Science!

Today my daughter is two months and one day old. Somehow all three of us are still alive, still sane, and even thinking that this might just have been a good idea. Especially as the little bird becomes more and more aware of the world around her. In the first weeks home there were really three states that she would exist in: sleeping, eating, or crying. Sometimes she could multitask, eating or crying while sleeping. But there wasn’t really a state of being awake, not actively eating, and not crying either. You know, that state that most of you reading this blog exist in for vast swaths of the day. I’m doing it right now.

The purpose of life can boil down to just one question: what do we do during these periods where we’re not eating, sleeping, or crying? It’s when we work, when we engage in recreational activities, and when we strive to obtain what we’re going to eat the next time we eat. The world exists to bombard us with ways to occupy this time. It always has. It always will. But what if you’re a baby?

I’m in awe of what the little bird can find interesting. Everything she sees is novel. What sort of miracle is a wall? They’re absolutely massive and provide so many things to look at. Oh, sure, that one spot just three inches to the left of your monitor might look identical to the spot a foot above. It’s the same color, the same texture. But, my god, it’s the same color and the same texture! What sort of witchcraft is that? There are times that she can keep herself awake just looking at things.

She’s starting to understand that the world around her isn’t just random splotches of color. There are things in the world. The challenge now is determining which of these things is another person. In doing so she has derived, from scratch and with no prompting, the scientific method. Test, observe, retest, correlate results. The test involves smiling at things, something she’s getting very good at. The smiles are fleeting, I haven’t gotten one on camera, but they’re amazing. Her hypothesis: the blotches of colors that are there to help her will smile back. So she’ll smile at us. She’ll smile at the cats. She’ll smile at the walls. She’ll smile at random spots in the middle distance. She correlates all those results, then keep smiling at the things that react to her smiles. It’s a brilliant little survival mechanism. Be cute, and continue being cute to the things that respond positively to it.

At its heart, that’s also the scientific method. And it really drives home how elegantly simple the scientific method is. Now, we create more robust and complicated hypotheses that are then worried over by tests far more rigorous than being cute at things (though that would make the Higgs boson hunt more interesting), but at the base level it’s the same. Interact, observe, then do it again until the results are significant. What’s spectacular is not the method’s simplicity, it’s that it took so long to codify it. Sure, we’ve been using this method since the 17th century, but we also didn’t fully utilize it out until the 17th century! When every baby ever born knew it innately, but then forgets  it. Think of it. All of modern science built out of a childlike sense of wonder, a wonder I hope my daughter never loses. Never entirely. Just like I hope she never gets tired of smiling at me.

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State of the Writer: November 2012

Picture released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported by Wikipedian Someone35.

What do you mean it’s the second?

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. Last night started a new phase for Nickajack that will see my wife and I find a half hour, even if it’s in two fifteen minute chunks, to read at least one scene of Nickajack out loud a night. It’s a great way to hear the adjectives, the filtering, and the misworded dialogue. The intent is to fix these on the fly and to identify spots where props appear or disappear, character motivations aren’t as strong as they could be, and other plot weaknesses that we can then go back and fix up. This is the novel moving forward in a substantive way for the first time since the birth of our daughter, and it feels good to be back into it. If we push hard and have a good product on our hands, we hope to be ready for the first round of alpha readers by January. No later than March is my hope.

The ultimate plan is two rounds of external readers, the first likely drawn from those who have seen the novel as we’ve crafted it, and the second drawn from those who have no knowledge of the plot or the twists. Each will be followed by a round of editing based on comments. After both rounds are done, then we’ll be querying this bad boy. We likely wouldn’t have made the 2012 query goal even if we hadn’t had a kid, even if we did work straight through, but I’m still glad I set the goal so high. Occasionally you need something completely out of your grasp to keep you jumping.

If you fall into either of the camps that we’re looking to draw readers from, keep an eye out. I’m not looking for volunteers yet, but I will be soon.

In other writing news, I’ve accepted final edits of my story for Old Weird South, and the publisher is hoping that the anthology is out by December 1. I know that dates like this frequently slide, we’ll see about when it will actually come out. If it does hit that date, or up to 30 days later, that will be three short stories published in 2012. Which is awesome. I’ll need to get my ass in gear if I want to match or top that in 2013, and set my sights on some professional rate sales.

State of the author’s beer. Man…I’ve got to bottle that stuff. It’s okay to hang out in the fermenter, but yeah, I’ve got to get that bottled. Maybe that’s a this weekend thing.

State of the author’s bees. They survived the storm in one piece, and now we’re focusing on winterizing them. This means keeping them fed with sugar syrup and pollen so they have reserves to make it through the hard months ahead. That’ll probably be its own post in the next month or two.

State of the author’s baby. Eight weeks old now and super cute. She should start “hatching” over the next few weeks, but she already looks at us and smiles. This is all part of the process by which she’ll learn what is and isn’t a face, and what is and isn’t a person. So while she smiles at us, she’ll also smile at the cats, the wall, and random spots in the middle distance. Still, any smiling is smiling, and it’s awesome to see.

This month is Nanowrimo. The editing I mentioned above is my primary project, but I think I’m going to pick two other goals.

  • Redraft Vampire of Mars
  • Finish draft of Antioch, 1098

That’ll be a great start if I am going to try to top this year’s three published stories. Jen Brinn, sage leader of the Cat Vacuuming Society, always cautions to not make sales a goal since they’re beyond the writer’s control…but it would still be nice to at least match this year’s output.

If you’re doing Nanowrimo, best of luck with your projects!

Update: Earlier version of this post stated my baby was eight months not eight weeks old. They grow up fast, but not that fast.

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