July 28, 2019

5 Great Books On Writing

I've received a number of questions over the years from other writers and storytellers, asking me questions on...writing. And although I'm very touched to receive such questions, I still feel like I have so many things I need to learn myself still, so I thought I'd post instead on some books I find really good on the subject.

But first, a warning: I've written stories both in novel and screenwriting formats, so the books here are geared toward either of these. However, I find that, at the core, they're all about great storytelling, so I'm keeping them mixed up.

1.The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

 Donald Maass has been a literary agent for quite a number of years now, and used his experience to write a number of books on the art of writing great fiction. What I really like about his books is that he always uses excerpts from a wide variety of books to illustrate his meanings.
Seriously, I love all of his books, and read them before I start any new novel.

2. Story by Robert McKee

 I discovered this great book when I first started delving in the screenwriting world. I love this book for the same reason I love Donald Maass's books: McKee filled this book with lots of examples from amazing movies to illustrate his points on what makes great storytelling for the big screen.

3. Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

 This one I recommend you get (if you get it at all) in print format--because it's chock-full of gorgeous illustrations. It's another great book (particularly if you're highly visual) to help you come up with lots of new ideas for your stories, and includes short contributions from quite a number of great fantasy authors such as George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joe Abercrombie, to name a few.

4. Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder

 This book has become a classic for screenwriters since it was first published in 2005. The premise of this screenwriting book is explained in its intro: "I call it the "Save the Cat" scene. They don't put it into movies anymore*. And it's basic. It's the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something -- like saving a cat -- that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him." And then he shows ways to accomplish that...and more.

5. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

 And so yes, I'm finishing up with another book by the Donald Maass. But seriously, I own them all, and love them all. And this one's great becomes it comes from a point that I struggle with quite a bit--allowing yourself to be emotional through your characters (yeah, I think it comes from my being partly an introverted easily shamed robot).

Voilà! Here are my top 5 favorite books on the craft of writing great stories.

What about you? Any other books you think should be added to this list?

Let me know!


*Except perhaps in The Incredibles

June 10, 2019

On Those Who Quell The Storm And Ride The Thunder ... And Their Trolls

"The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. 

(...) A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities—all these are marks, not, as the possessor would fain think, of superiority, but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part manfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affectation of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves their own weakness. The role is easy; there is none easier, save only the role of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance. 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. 

(...)There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. "
~Theodore Roosevelt, 
Citizenship in a Republic, the Man in the Arena
April 23, 1910

May 21, 2019

Impostor Syndrome

The Forces of Creation by Louis Dyer

Anyone who puts him/herself out there by creating something new, is bound to feel at one point or another that they're not good enough. That they can't truly compare to [insert their hero(ine)'s name here].

But what they (myself included) need to understand, is that they're different from said hero(in)es, and that doesn't make them bad. Especially if they always try to get better, to improve their craft.

I admit I've been rather pithy with the subject, but if that doesn't inspire you, here's a story from Neil Gaiman, author of a number of fabulous books (some  of which have been turned into movies and/or TV shows, like Good Omens, Stardust, Coraline, American Gods, etc.), that might inspire you better:

"Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn't qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, "I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They've made amazing things. I just went where I was sent."

And I said, "Yes, but you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something."

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an impostor, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren't any grownups, only people who had worked hard and also gotten lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for."

Welcome to the end times...

PS: Proof of two Neils together here for those of you who want it :)

May 18, 2019

Women's Rights

Never forget that a political, economical or religious crisis will be enough to cast doubt on women's rights. These rights will never be vested. You'll have to stay vigilant your whole life.

~Simone de Beauvoir, 
French writer, philosopher, & activist

I admit that I once believed these words to no longer hold true in certain parts of the world. No longer...

May 15, 2019

Which FRIENDS Character Are You?

One of my favorite TV shows (if not my all-time fave) is FRIENDS. It's like my comfort food when I'm tired or feeling a little blue (especially now that I'm no longer allowed to have sweets of any kind). So it doesn't surprise me when I hear people say that it's still the #1 viewed show in the world...25 years after the first episode was shown!

I love the banter between the characters, how (sometimes brutally) honest they can be with each other, and that no matter whether they've had a fight or not, they'll always be there for each other (great theme song, btw!).

Growing up, that 's how I'd pictured my life would be once I moved to the US (of course, reality turned out to be quite different).

Funnily, whenever I watch the show now, I can see a part of each of the six friends in myself, too:

  • Monica's extreme diplomacy
  • Phoebe's ultra-scientific approach to life
  • Chandler's athleticism
  • Rachel's tough-girls-don't-cry attitude
  • Joey's quick-wittiness, and
  • Ross's too-cool for schoolness
What about you? Do you see yourself in the characters? 

If you need help, here's a link to a fun FRIENDS personality Quiz (I got Monica) :)

April 3, 2019

Corrosive Effects Of Chronic High Cortisol

Some of you may already know this, but I've suffered bouts of severe illness that's left my immune system KO, my mind foggy and/or full of holes, and my body deteriorating at an increasing rate. Now that I know all the ills (and there are many), I can finally start on the road to recovery (and an arduous road it is).

So when I was rereading my notes from this really interesting book I read over the summer, Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality by Dawson Church, I fell on this passage which really spoke to me.

I therefore thought I might share these particular insights on the effects of sustained stress on our systems.
Source: Women to Women Healthcare Center

When we're stressed out or worried, our bodies release cortisol. It's a hormone which is meant to help us survive (like adrenaline) when our lives are at risk, but not at chronically high levels. Church shares the following list of body damages a sustained high level of cortisol can lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Death of neurons in the brain's memory centers (I confirm I've become worse than Dory this past year)
  • High blood sugar
  • Heart disease
  • Diminished cell repair
  • Accelerated aging
  • Alzheimer's
  • Fatigue (this one's terrible, because you can't do anything anymore, except the very basic to survive...you literally become a robot, too tired to even have feelings beyond utter and total exhaustion)
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Slow wound healing
  • Reduced bone repair
  • Fewer stem cells
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Increased skin wrinkling
  • Fat around the waist and hips
  • Osteoporosis
And the following passage is quite illuminating:

We cause chronic cortisol production by turning our attention to those factors in the environment that stress us out. Negative thinking drives high cortisol even when there is no tiger in the grass. Our brilliant brains are able to ruminate about the bad thing that happened in the past or the bad thing that might happen in the future. Even if  it never happened and will never happen, we can nonetheless focus on it, picture it, contemplate it, imagine it, talk about it, and catastrophize about it.

The body cannot distinguish between an actual threat and a perceived threat. It has no way of knowing that the imaginary threat we are conjuring up in our minds using negative thinking is not an actual threat to our survival. Purely by though alone, we can drive cortisol up and produce corrosive effects on our cells.

I would add to this that it is important to be in a place where you can feel safe first--both physically and emotionally. Then you can learn to catch yourself when you're allowing your mind to stray down dark paths, and instead force yourself to think more positively. And repeat the process, until your brain's positive pathways are deeper than the others.

Dory and Marlin, in Finding Nemo

February 26, 2019

King Arthur's Cry Of The Heart - A Song From Catherine Lara's Musical

The Legendary Blade
by ourlak aka Tierno Beauregard
I am in the last throes of editing Curse of the Fey, the last entry in my Morgana Trilogy. I have to say, being a writer is not always *cough*never*cough* easy--especially when some passages still seem so far from good despite going through dozens of edits (and sometimes total revamps). It is also very solitary work that's a killer on my joints and mental fortitude.

So I find encouragement and inspiration to keep on going where I can (and hearing from people who've enjoyed my story thus far is THE best). One of these sources is listening to the album Graal by Catherine Lara.

Graal is a French/Canadian musical that, unfortunately, never made it to the stage (though I'd probably have missed the presentations since at the time the music came out I was still living in the States). It is beautifully composed and written, and the songs are performed by an amazing cast (troupe?) of singers.

One of the songs that always raises goose bumps down my arms, is that of King Arthur (performed by a fellow Belgian, Pablo Villafranca). I know that the song's in French, but one need not necessarily understand the lyrics to feel what it's telling us.

Arthur sings it at the very end when love, jealousy and betrayal have ripped his kingdom and heart to pieces...and yet he finds the strength in him to forgive.

 I'm sorry, I couldn't find the original MV for this song

February 19, 2019

Memory Of The Vanquished

Although I do not speak of this fabulous Disney cartoon, turns out Zootopia does, in a way, exemplify some of this post's themes. Also, have I mentioned how much I like this animated feature?

I've been reading a truly fascinating book on and off since the beginning of the year. It is Bernard Werber's Encyclopédie du Savoir Relatif et Absolu--basically, an encyclopedia of interesting facts and tidbits that cover everything from science to religion, philosophy to chocolate cake recipes. It is a cookbook for ideas and creativity, a generator of food for thoughts*.
Thomas More’s Utopia designed in 1516

One of these I shall translate for you here (from French), as it brings up an interesting philosophical point, and ensuing questions:

Of the past we only know the winners' version. Thus we only know of Troy what Greek historians told. We know of Gaul only through Julius Caesar's Memoirs. We only know of the Aztecs or the Incas through the tales of the conquistadors and missionaries who had gone there to convert their people by force.

And in each case, the few talents attributed to those defeated are there only to glorify the merits of those who managed to annihilate them.

Who will dare speak of the "memory of the vanquished"? History books condition us to the idea that, according to the Darwin principle, if civilizations have disappeared it is because they were ill-adapted. But when investigating the events, we finally understand that, more often than not, the more civilized populations were destroyed by the more brutal ones. Their only unsuitability consisted of believing in peace treatises, as with the Carthaginians, or presents, as was the case with the Trojans (ah, the apology of Ulysses's ruse which was but treachery that lead to a nocturnal massacre)...

The worst is perhaps that, not only do the winners destroy their victims' history books and memorabilia, but that they also insult them. 
Theseus against the Minotaur

The Greeks invented the legend of Theseus vanquishing a bull-headed monster who ate virgins to legitimize the invasion of Crete and the destruction of the superb Minoan civilization. The Romans pretended that the Carthaginians made sacrifices to their god Moloch, which, we now know, was entirely false.

Who will ever dare speak of the victims' splendor? The gods, perhaps, who know the beauty and subtlety of those civilizations that were destroyed by fire and sword...

My first and foremost question, then, is this:
How likely is it for a civilization to have truly been pacifist? War, after all, even if with "rudimentary" weapons, is a staple of humanity (how can it not, when our animal instincts are all about marking our territory--and the limited resources it contains--and the spreading of our own genes?).

I rather believe that, instead, most populations (from empires all the way down to the smallest tribe) who were pacifists, were mostly so either because they were completely isolated (no fear of the invaders), or had been repeatedly cowed by stronger enemies (read the excellent article on the subject by William Buckner, linked below)...or had developed a mutually-beneficent trading market instead.
Mohenjo-daro street and drains
(Mortimer Wheeler, 1959)
Mohenjo-daro was one of the Harappan
Society's largest cities.

But the latter, the basis behind the European vision (amongst other examples), cannot last unless it continues to be mutually advantageous to all involved parties (at least more so than a war between them), and said parties are strong enough to fend off outside warring parties (please read the interesting Q&A on the Harappan civilization linked below).

So, perhaps Darwin's idea of the survival of the fittest isn't that far off, as history invariably gives preference to the strongest and/or most conniving (of course, in this Werber is right, that history is written by the victors).

In the process, those who dream only of peace without having the means to properly defend themselves against invaders (or don't keep up with the required technology to do so), will be destroyed, and their knowledge either absorbed by the conquerors, or otherwise wiped out of history books.

At least for as long as we are human.

However, being human also means we all aspire, to some degree or another, to a nobler state. How can any of us live properly if we don't see ourselves as being good and/or right in some shape or form? And Werber hits the nail on the head when he mentions the tendencies of the victors to vilify their victims (oh my, what an alliteration!).

Because, as briefly explored  in another article on false accusations during WWI, such horrible lies are sometimes the only way to "allow" us, even condone us, to perform what is essentially fratricide (aren't we all brothers and sisters, after all?).

And that should give us hope.

Hope and Butterflies by Jean Plout

Additional Sources:
The sad and violent history of 'peaceful societies', by William Buckner
Mayan human sacrifices
Child sacrifice in pre-Columbian cultures
Algonquins of Ontario history
How peaceful was Harappan Civilization

*Although many of the entries are still valid, some of the items are dated (it combines books the author's written since the nineties), but one can't fault Werber for that. The encyclopedia is a testament to the (mostly) western world's knowledge at the turn of the century, and is still a great source for further studies (at which point we can discover any appropriate update to the subject at heart).

February 14, 2019

Romance And Glamour

Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.
~ Elinor Glyn

Elinor was a British writer who became known for her scandalous romantic fiction (novels, short stories, articles, and screenplays).

Scandalous, because at the time (turn of the twentieth century), good women were meant to rear children and not enjoy the act of sex (a terribly sinful idea that was reserved for prostitutes instead).

Happy Saint Valentine's everyone :)

February 12, 2019

All Creative People Want To Do The Unexpected - Hedy Lamar

Hedy Lamarr once said: "Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

But this actress, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, was far from being stupid. In fact, quite the opposite.

Born in 1914, and an only child, Hedy Lamarr received all the time and love she needed from her parents. Her father, a highly cultured and curious person himself, cultivated in her a thirst for knowledge, and later in her life, Lamarr stated that she'd never love a man as much as she loved her father.

Lamarr began her acting career between both World Wars. But it wasn't until her fifth movie, Ecstasy (which has a slight Madame Bovary feel to it), that she rose to true international fame.  In it, and long before When Harry Met Sally, Hedy Lamarr simulates an orgasm. This caused the Vatican itself to condemn the movie...and everyone else to state that she was, in fact, the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her first husband, Friedrich Mandl, was a really big fan of hers. But he also turned out to be a fascist arms dealer,  who did business with Mussolini and Hitler. He was jealous, and possessive, and had her under lock and key at all times. Hedy Lamarr, not one to be tied down, decided then to take her destiny into her own hands--she drugged her guard, put his clothes on, and fled to the States, where she got a contract with Metro Goldwin Mayer.

She was an immediate success there as well, conquering hearts both on and off the screen.

But outside of Hollywood, Hedy Lamarr continued to entertain her passion for learning and discovery. And it's thanks to her friend and lover Howard Hughes, that she first got to explore this side of hers, designing sleeker and faster planes for him.

Concerned with events in Europe, and since she was familiar with weapons thanks to her first husband, Hedy Lamarr decided to team up with a friend, George Antheil, to develop a form of radio communication that would be difficult to jam. The idea being that these signals could be used to guide underwater missiles without them being detectable by the enemy (a technology known as Spread Spectrum).

And though they did get this invention patented, it's not until the Cold War that their technology was finally used and improved upon by the US on its missiles. Later, it became clear that their invention could have many other uses as well. It's therefore thanks to Hedy Lamarr that we now have technologies such as mobile phones, the GPS, military encryption, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.

It isn't until her last days (Hedy Lamarr died in 2000) that her genius was publicly recognized, and she received the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award.

In 2014, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The world isn't getting any easier. With all these new inventions, I believe
that people are hurried more and pushed more... The hurried way
is not the right way; you need time for everything - 
time to work, time to play, time to rest.
~Hedy Lamarr

February 5, 2019

A Futuristic Tale Inspired By Spartacus

"Society has three stages: Savagery, Ascendance, Decadence.
The great rise because of Savagery. They rule in Ascendance.
They fall because of their own Decadence."
~ArchGovernor of Mars Nero au Augustus

I've read, and re-read a few times already Pierce Brown's brilliant (to my humble opinion) Red Rising Trilogy (which has since been further developed into a saga, but the initial trilogy is a complete story in and of itself).

The story of Darrow starts with Red Rising. It is a tale of a slave, a Red, the lowest of the low--though his status as such was not known to him at first--who rises through the caste system of this futuristic society to become Gold (thanks to technology and lots of pain and suffering). For the Gold are the elite, the top of the food chain, and the most precious metal of this highly hierarchical society where your place is determined by your color (and according metal: rusty iron, copper, silver, bronze, etc.).

And only as a Gold could Darrow, if he can pass all the tests and constant life-threatening challenges, hope to make a difference. He is Spartacus against the Roman empire. David against a solar system Goliath. But he's got his wits (and his unorthodox approach to the Society's highly structure life), his love of his friends and family, and a rebel alliance to help with this most Draconian of enterprises.

"Men are not created equal; we all know this.
There are averages. There are outliers.
There are the ugly. There are the beautiful.
This would not be if we were all equal.
A Red can no more command a starship than a Green can serve as a doctor!"
~ArchGovernor of Mars Nero au Augustus

The Red Rising Trilogy (as I keep calling it, with books 2 and 3 being Golden Sun, and Morning Star, respectively) is a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it to anyone into high adventure, and Sci-Fi. It's colorful, vivid, poignant, action-packed, highly imaginative, and full of twists and turns that will keep you entertained from start to finish!

January 29, 2019

When Temperatures Climb, Bodies Shrink

There's more and more talk (justly so, in my opinion) of global warming. This effect, though not new (NASA states that "just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago), still engenders dramatic (even catastrophic) changes. And the increase in temperatures we're seeing now, is the most rapid one the world has seen thus far (the increase in CO2 levels that caused the Great Dying, aka the greatest extinction event ever seen on Earth, was only 1/10th of the current increase rate we're seeing now).

One of these changes, as studied by Jennifer A. Sheridan and David Bickford, is the change in body size. Or, to be more precise, its shrinking. Which, as stressed out in their paper, "could negatively impact both crop plants and protein sources such as fish that are important for human nutrition." An ever more pressing issue as the global population keeps expanding, despite doing so at a slowing rate.

Here are some interesting details from their paper:

  1. The increase in temperatures and the resulting change in rain patterns will affect every organism on the planet.
  2. However, although each organism should see "shrinkage", this won't happen all at once nor equally across all species, which means that our whole ecosystem will be even more out of balance.
  3. What will shrink? Everything, including:
    1. Oysters, scallops, and corals (some of which may even disappear entirely since they wouldn't be able to form exoskeletons anymore).
    2. Phytoplankton, which is the food base for most marine life, and, incidentally, is also the plant that absorbs most of the CO2 on Earth.
    3. For every 1°C of temperature increase, the following drops in mass/size are expected (as examples):
      1.  fruit: 3-17%
      2. marine invertebrates: 0.5-4%
      3. fish: 6-22%
      4. beetles: 1-3%
      5. salamanders: 14%
  4. The downsizing trend has already started, by the way, and evidenced through studies of creatures in the wild as well as those subject to commercial harvesting. These organisms include polar bears, red deer, toads, squirrels, birds, plants, sheep. Scientists and farmers have also seen that cows follow the same trend in hotter temperatures, thereby also producing less milk.
    Source: Journal of Dairy Science
  5. Evidence of such massive size reduction is also supported by fossils, which show, for example:
    1. Bees, wasps, spiders, beetles, ants, and cicadas shrank by 50-75% in size almost 55 million years ago, when global temperatures suddenly jumped 3-7°C and rainfalls dropped by ~40%. 
    2. Similar shrinking was observed on small mammals during other global warming periods:
      1. An early horse got 14% smaller (granted, it wasn't a very big horse to begin with, going from the size of a dog to that of a cat)
      2. Early primates got 4% smaller.
  6. Other changes to expect from global warming:
    1. Melting glaciers.
    2. Rising sea levels (definitive flooding of land).
    3. Acidification of all water sources--marine and fresh.
    4. Increased ultraviolet-B radiation (risks to humans include: skin cancer, reduced immune response to Herpes, skin lesions, harm the spleen, eye problems; risks to plants include: impaired photosynthesis so less oxygen's produced, size reduction, drop in overall production, increased susceptibility to disease, changed flowering pattern).
    5. Increased fire frequency.
    6. Less rain/precipitation globally; and for those places with more rainfall, will see it happen all at once, with long stretches of water limitation.
    7. Subtropics will get drier while much of the equatorial and high-latitude regions will get wetter (fewer habitable areas for humans)--linked to points 5 and 6.
    8. Nutrient loss (either to excessive soil nitrogen loss through fires, or leaching due to too much rain at once).
    9. Extermination of many species that can't adapt quickly enough.

I know. Lots of data to take in. And scary. A few percentage points might not seem like much, but they can mess up the balance of life on earth completely.

Already, as reported in The New Yorker in 2018, the number of chronically-malnourished people and the number of children forced into labor has started to grow again, "driven in part by an increase in conflicts and climate-induced disasters."  And that's "only" with a 1°C increase over pre-industrial temperatures. The article also mentions other effects from global warming that we're suffering from right now, such as: an increase in Lyme disease (Are there ticks on that beautiful green lawn? Should I still have my BBQ party?), proliferation of jellyfish (paddling among a cloud of medusas while out surfing doesn't sound so cool).

It's going to happen, it's happened before. The question is, by how much will temperatures rise, how quickly, and will we be ready to face the consequences (or have solutions to help protect our flora and fauna as much as possible) when the time comes?
N. America after sea levels rise due to ice melts
Europe after sea levels rise due to the melting of the ice caps

NASA - Global Climate Change
World Population Clock
Shrinking body size as an ecological response to climate change, by Jennifer A. Sheridan and David Bickford
Global warming shrank animals in the past, article in USA Today, March 18, 2017
How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet, by Mill McKibben for The New Yorker, November 26, 2018
What the world would look like if all the ice melted, National Geographic
Ultraviolet Radiation: How it Affects Life on Earth, NASA - Earth Observatory

January 22, 2019

Please Wash Your Hands

Before germs were "discovered" (proof of which was brought by Louis Pasteur between 1860 and 1864), Hungarian ob-gyn at the Vienna general hospital, Ignaz Semmelweis, guessed that the death of his friend, Dr. Jakob Kolletschka, was he was infected by the very doctors who'd tried to heal him.

So in 1847, Dr. Semmelweiss made his staff clean their hands before helping patients to prevent the latter from succumbing to what he called "invisible poison." Turned out this saved numerous lives (the mortality rate in his department dropped from 12% to 2.4%, and again to 1.3% when the order was given to anyone helping with childbirth).
Baron Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgery,
idea first developed by Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis

But, as no good deed goes unpunished, Dr. Semmelweiss's colleagues started berating and insulting him, until he was finally fired from the hospital. He did find work again in another hospital in Hungary, but only if he promised not to talk about this whole washing of hands business.

All this despite the obvious proof of his theory. I just don't understand why people have to be so jealous of others' findings, particularly when they're for the good of the people, instead of simply applying these new systems themselves?

In any case, Dr. Semmelweiss didn't give up on his findings, and tried to bring the subject up at the university of Budapest. But he was arrested by the police, taken back to Vienna by his Hungarian colleagues, to be placed in an asylum. Once there, the staff beat him up whenever he mentioned anything about washing hands, and he ended up dying by the unwashed hands of a doctor who, instead of healing his severe wounds, ended up giving him gangrene.

January 15, 2019

Macabre Constant

This is an entry in Bernard Werber's awesome Encyclopédie du Savoir Relatif et Absolu, which groups all eleven of his books, like The Ants, We The Gods, and Third Humanity, as well as some additional material.

It is a compendium of a lot of interesting facts, theories, thoughts (and includes a couple recipes as well), and is simply a fascinating read!

Due to the fact that these bite-size entries in his encyclopedia discuss so many varied topics, I find it also is a great source of inspiration for future stories... That's right folks, if you guys can read French (for the encyclopedia is currently only available in the author's mother tongue, or in Russian, I just found out), you may be able to find out which items I may end up using in one of my next series ;)

Here's an entry I found interesting in terms of how our society tends to organize itself...which, imho should change, but the question is: How?

(translation by yours truly)

The Macabre Constant

The name "macabre constant" comes from the researcher André Antibi. This lab director for educational sciences at the university of Paul-Sabatier in Toulouse posits that, in a classroom, the teacher has to have the following distribution among its students: 1/3 good students, 1/3 average students, and 1/3 bad students.  (My note: This is similar to grading on a curve)

What would one say of a teacher who didn't attribute a grade below B?(1) That s/he's too indulgent. For a teacher to be credible, s/he has to have 1/3 of her/his class be considered "bad students." Under societal pressure, the teacher therefore becomes a selector despite her/himself.

In a 2000 survey done on teachers and professors, 95% admitted that they felt obliged to establish a certain percentage of bad grades. However, this "macabre constant" that creates a selection based on failure, ends up making its victims lose confidence in themselves, and even discourages these students entirely. (My note: Sometimes wrongfully so. Besides, shouldn't a teacher/professor be evaluated instead on how well s/he successfully imparts knowledge instead?)
Mandelbrot set detail

André Antibi proposed, to avoid it, another system, the EBCC, or the Evaluation By Contract of Confidence (2), which consists in verifying whether the student has acquired the requisite knowledge.

One can find this principle, that rules there should be 1/3 winners, 1/3 in the middle, and 1/3 losers, is also applied outside of the scholastic system, to all human groups, as if it were necessary to have a third world, emerging countries, and industrialized countries, to keep humanity balanced.

Likewise, inside each nation, we find again this division in thirds: the poor, the middle class, and the rich.

And just like with Mandelbrot's fractals, this three-tiered scheme is reproduced indefinitely. Even in slums (just like within the middle classes, or with those in power), this distribution can be found again.

Despite all Utopian equality that's been attempted (anarchists, communists, hippies, ...), this principle of the macabre constant keeps coming back, as if it were inexorably linked to our species. 
The measure of any victory can only be undertaken based on the defeat or failure of a group of individuals designated as "losers."

Income Inequality in the USA (March 24, 2014)
From demographicpartitions.org

(1) Note that this is technically France, where the grading is out of 20, with passing grades going from 10-12, depending on the school system, so the author, B. Werber, actually said "didn't grade below a 12."
(2) In French, it's EPCC, or Evaluation par contrat de confiance.

January 8, 2019

The Birth Of Writing

Ancient Egyptians believed that writing was a gift taught to them by the god Thoth, calling their script the "words of gods," composed of hieroglyphs, or "sacred inscriptions."

His gift was meant to share wisdom with the Egyptian people, and help preserve their memory. But when he announced his deed to the god Ra, the latter told him he feared writing would actually shorten people's memories, for they would rely too much on what was written instead.

I can see both points. For myself, I rely severely on my intense note-taking to "remember" important points. Yet should I lose those notes, all that knowledge would be irrevocably lost. People also state that it's better to rely on writings, for people will make up memories or change the story over time.

But the issue is also found in written historical accounts--for aren't these subjective retellings of events? If these people chose not to write about an event, then for all intents and purposes, it's the same as erasing a part of history, right?(1) Scientists/historians try to ascertain the truth by finding different sources describing the same event that would corroborate, but that's still far from foolproof. Makes it interesting to see how different history could have been vs. what textbooks tell us, huh?

Incidentally, people tend to trust the written word more than hearsay, even if the one who wrote the book/article/post doesn't know a thing about the topic, while the speaker might be an expert in said subject. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that humans (an estimated 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual (2) )...

In any case, I find this fascinating, and is possibly one of the reasons why I enjoy mixing facts and fiction in my stories, blending them in such ways that it's sometimes difficult to tell where one ends and the other starts.

If it were up to you, how would you like to alter history (could be in big or small ways), to make it more fun or interesting?

(1) For instance, in 1054, there was a supernova explosion that was witnessed on earth (its remains now form the Crab Nebula). It was so powerful it lit up the whole sky up, then remained visible for two years after. Europe, however, is the only (sub-)continent that doesn't mention it. Why? Because back then, European scientists believed that the world/universe was fixed, and therefore no new event could ever happen or be recorded. Since they couldn't explain this particular event, the European astronomers decided not to write it down. As if it never happened.
(2) Humans Process Visual Data Better

January 1, 2019

The Power Of Words - A New Year's Resolution Based On Transformational Vocabulary

Wonder Woman inspirational power
& strength through words
~ art print by Marvin Blaine
I've been reading Anthony Robbins's inspiring book Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Financial Destiny!  It's a great book, though some examples are dated, and the basics of the content is applicable no matter what century we happen to be living in. Unless we've all turned into robots, but that's another problem altogether.

In any case, there's a section in this book that discusses the power of the word on our lives, and our ability to be happy and fulfill our self-chosen destiny thanks to it. This is because "words absolutely do filter and transform experience." For you see, "since words are our primary tool for interpretation or translation, the way we label our experience immediately changes the sensations produced in our nervous systems. You and I must realize that words do indeed create a biochemical effect."

In fact, in Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman state that "a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress." Negative words cause our brain to create fear-inducing, stress-related hormones, while positive words stimulate the frontal lobe of our brain, which is linked to logic and reason. The frontal lobe activation by the positive word(s) will, in turn, activate other parts of the brain, like the parietal lobe (responsible for how you view yourself), and the thalamus (responsible for how you view others and reality), so that we will start feeling better about ourselves, others around us, and basically our whole world.

Robbins used as an example how one of his friends inspired him to start using the word "peeved" whenever he started feeling angry about a situation. Just the use of that word (instead of potentially stronger words like "livid" or "enraged") automatically diffuses the situation emotionally-speaking, and therefore allows him to be open to more ways to solve the problem that's suddenly appeared because he's not flooding his brain and body with stress hormones.

But Robbins doesn't just stop there. Indeed, he posits that not only do the labels we apply to how we feel/what we think alter our emotions (with the goal being that we want to more relaxed and happier beings), but that the greater our vocabulary, the easier it is for us to do so.

To illustrate this point, Robbins mentions a study that had once been undertaken in a prison, where it was found that "when inmates experienced pain, one of the few ways they could communicate it was through physical action--their limited vocabulary limited their emotional range, channeling even the slightest feelings of discomfort into heightened levels of violent anger." So the better you are at labeling your emotions, the better you become at controlling your anger (and potentially your violence), and lessening the degree of the emotions while at the same time heightening the positive one.

In an online class I took (I'm all about self-empowerment these days), the teacher stressed the fact that you can choose to be happy, and the way to do that is to realize that your thoughts--shaped by your words--affect how you feel. So it's very important to use empowering words, ones that will make you feel good about yourself and your world, words of love, and encouragement, and inspiration.

And it works! It truly, really works! I'm not saying that it's always going to be easy, that we won't feel pain or sadness (like I said, we haven't yet "evolved" into machines), but it will certainly skew our life towards the more positive side of things. So my goal (or one of them anyways, but this one's at the top of my list) is to consistently choose to be happy, and build up my vocabulary so I can describe my emotions in more variegated ways.

I'm also hoping this will allow me to become a better writer over time.

So, what word(s) of power would you like to calibrate your life to in the coming weeks, months, or years?

If we want to change our lives and shape our destiny, we need to consciously select the words we're going to use, and we need to constantly strive to expand our level of choice.
~Anthony Robbins