On Introspection and Writing

This last year has brought a lot of change into my life. Call it a mid-life crisis if you want, but certainly I am changed over who (or where) I was last year.

In April of last year one of the most significant events of my life occurred. That was when my son received the diagnosis of PDD-NOS. What’s that, you ask? In a nutshell, it means that the boy has autism (or is autistic, or whatever is politically correct). He’s a high-functioning autistic, but does not quite fit the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.

Anyway, what’s important here is that this diagnosis, while disappointing and sometimes difficult to cope with did help me accept that my child’s strange behavior is not due to any failure of my own. My parenting is fine. The boy is just different. I hadn’t realized it, but the feeling that the boy’s ‘differentness’ was somehow my fault had been weighing so heavily on me that it affected everything. I was depressed. I gained weight. I faltered at work. I faltered at home, with my marriage, and everything. I felt like a failure all the way around.

Everything changed with the boy’s diagnosis. I did go through an initial stage of mourning: the boy would never be the person that I had originally thought he might be. But once I got past that, things improved.

I suddenly dropped fifteen pounds of weight. I just quit eating as much. Apparently, I am a comfort-eater. Yeah, I am. Yum. Candy. This then turned into me beginning a regular fitness program. At this point, I have lost nearly thirty pounds, and am fitter than I was even as an undergraduate athlete.

My relationship with my husband also improved. Sure we still have some rocky moments, but that’s natural. We celebrated ten years of marriage last year. And we still like each other. That’s pretty good.

Somehow, the boy’s diagnosis enabled me to allow myself to take time for my own interests. I discovered that I really like sewing, and have now made for myself, my husband, and the boy several costumes with at 14th century flair. I’m working on new costumes for the Ren-Faire circuit this summer.

What’s perhaps the most substantial revelation I’ve gotten in the last year is that I actually like to write. Yeah, who new. I’ve hated writing for years, or so I’ve thought. The truth is, I hate technical writing. It’s stale and stunted. It’s all posturing and jargon. (And I’m not the only one who’s realized this!) It’s not my natural mode of communication.

Last November, I joined the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and started, for the first time ever, to write and share with others one of the many stories I’ve had drifting around in my head. Well, I easily met the 50k word goal of NaNoWriMo, but the book was (and still is) hardly complete. With this writing, I discovered that I absolutely loved writing. Just not technical writing.

Well, I’m still working on the book (Knights of Herongarde), and still costuming, and feel great for it. Recently, a blog post inspired me to do more writing. It seems that there is a call for scientists to start making their work accessible to others, and blogging seems to be the best way to do this. So, I’ve started adding blog posts about my research. I hope that readers here have enjoyed them. There will be more.

I’m about to embark on another project that will involve a lot of writing. Writing in my preferred style, not the stunted, formal style of technical journals. It was suggested to me while in California that there does not exist a popular-press book on the basics of geology. Given my preferred style of writing, I might be the person to prepare such a book.

There are books on the geology of specific places, but nothing like “Geology for the masses,” semi-technical books that a person could grab and take with them anywhere where rocks are exposed and get something useful from it. Well there are a few out there, most notably one in the “For Dummies” series. Many are geared toward children, and far too many (the prettiest and glossiest and the ones that are on top of the Google search for “Geology book”) are creation science books touting the 6,000 year-old Earth. *gasp*

This is in marked contrast to books on dinosaurs, for example, where you can choose from any number of great titles, written at a level accessible to both children and adults, all written by prominent authors and scholars. These books mix technical jargon with pretty pictures and fantastic facts that attract scholars at all levels. I myself have several of these books on my own shelves and refer to them when teaching about dinosaurs in my own classes.

So why don’t such books exist for the science of geology? Maybe because it is a very broad topic? Maybe because most geologists don’t consider promoting their science to the general populace necessary? Maybe because the average person thinks that there’s not much to geology, so a whole book devoted to it would be pointless.

Well, that last person is missing out on a fantastic science. A lot of people are. So I’ve decided to take on this project. And I think my personal style of writing and the use of this blog lend themselves to the greater project. My goals in doing this work are the same as they are when I teach “Introduction to the Geological Sciences”:

1) To leave the reader/student with basic knowledge that *wherever* they go, whether rocks are exposed or not, there will always be something geological for them to recognize and enjoy.

2) To turn the reader/student into an informed citizen. Far too often, geology is given short-shrift in the media, and the average person is entirely unaware that within geology are important answers to questions related to climate change or other environmental disasters (like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or last year’s earthquake in Japan). My goal is to demonstrate the relevance, so that when policy decisions must be made, people can choose appropriately.

The ‘book’ will be written section by section, topic by topic, where each section is sufficient for a single blog post. In the end, the book will be put together by stitching each of the sections together in the correct order.

This accomplishes two things. One, it lets me take my time writing the book. I can write a section or two a week, but a whole book in a year is a little daunting. Two, by using the blog it allows some peer review and more importantly, open access, which is a huge topic in the sciences these days. Read about it. Maybe I’ll blog about it. Eventually.

 

John Carter – An Incredible Success

The truth is, I’m not a movie aficionado. In fact, I don’t watch movies that often at all. It’s not because I don’t enjoy watching movies, but rather that I’m usually busy trying to keep my life in order. I use up my time among keeping my job, raising my autistic son, and trying to carve out a little ‘me’ time to exercise and occasionally get some sleep.

With that, you should understand that it is a big deal when I decide that there is a movie out there worth seeing that I’m actually willing to pay to see at the theater. It’s an even bigger deal when I decide that the whole family should come. It’s a big event in our household.

I had seen a few previews of John Carter and decided that it was a movie I wanted to see in the theater and that it was a movie that the whole family would enjoy. So we made our plans and off we went.

We did all enjoy the movie. It was excellent. Sure, it’s not Schindler’s List, but it was a really great romp on a foreign planet based upon a classic book. It wasn’t the same-old fare – a replicate of Avatar, or whatever. It certainly wasn’t a flop like Water World. It didn’t follow the usual formula. It kept me guessing and wondering where the plot was going to go. I was engaged.

The things I particularly enjoyed include:

1) The four-armed critters were actually pretty convincing. As a vertebrate paleontologist, I’m always disappointed when the alien species depicted really couldn’t function.

2) The characters seemed genuine, especially John Carter himself. I could totally get why he was so jaded with life.

3) It didn’t feel like a totally CG movie, though I realize that there was a lot of CG in it. Oftentimes, I find too much CG a great distraction, but I wasn’t troubled by it in John Carter. Was it because the technology has improved? Maybe. Equally likely, the movie was conceived in such a way that it’s success wasn’t entirely dependent upon CG. The new Star Wars movies overused CG so much that I can barely watch them.

4) The landscapes and backdrops were home to me. This is a double-edged sword, of course, since I recognized some of the vistas as places I have been. But, seriously, Shiprock is awesome, and the perfect place to stand in as Mars. It was in the Southwest where I learned my trade (geology and paleontology), and love to see my old stomping grounds.

5) And naturally, James Purefoy, who is one of my favorite actors to watch and who seems to have stolen every scene he was in. (Sigh.)

When I heard that John Carter is being described as the “Biggest Flop Ever,” I was dismayed. It’s a perfectly good movie. How could it flop? The fact of it is that Disney seems to have not bothered to advertise the movie in the US. When I think about it, the only reason why I knew about it was that I enjoy cyber-stalking Mr. Purefoy (I’m an adult, I can do that) and I found out about the movie from one of his fan websites. My husband, who watches considerably more television than I do, knew absolutely nothing about the movie. He hadn’t even heard of it. What’s up with that, Disney?

I’m disappointed – seriously – because there’s one other reason why I really liked John Carter.

WHY I LOVE JOHN CARTER:

I mentioned my autistic son earlier. He’s not horribly autistic, some would call him ‘high functioning.’ In the medical parlance, his diagnosis is PDD-NOS, which puts him on the autism spectrum, but not the type of autistic that you might have seen in Rain Man. Nevertheless, to get the boy to a theater and get him to sit through a movie is difficult. It’s something new, something different, so he fights. He could start peeping and acting out during the film. As we were going into the theater he was screaming about how he didn’t want to go and that he would cover his ears and shut his eyes the whole time. We’ve had some poor movie experiences because of his autism, and I was a bit apprehensive. But I was convinced that he would like the film.

The boy sat still and quiet through the whole movie, start to finish. Amazing. And as we left he said, “I guess that was a pretty good movie after all.”

Success.

How can John Carter be a ‘flop’? My boy liked it. It was incredible!