Thursday, January 19, 2012

Inside my head there is a garden. And a tank. Reflections on writing this book.

As you likely know, I'm scribing this reference-type tubie tome.  It's going OK.  Three days or so ago I saw the whole of it properly for the first time in my head.  And just after that something happened.

It's not easy, this writing thing, this commitment.  A tweet I read recently said (and I forget who was quoted, I suspect it was Voltaire) "to write a book is to risk being shot at" and suddenly I re-thought the whole endeavour.  My motivations, justifications and attitudes shifted and changed; I'm told by published authors this happens a lot in the writing stuff game.  Not that I suddenly feared assassination, not at all, it's just that I realised that in some ways, in some parts, I was in conflict - was I aiming at laying down an open garden of inviting pathways for all who may wish to enter or was I building a Main Battle Tank?  For in truth, both are required.

Inclusivity is vital to the success of the work, in that all who have a tube in the family must be able to draw benefit from it and yet for it to satisfy me fully it also needs to advocate the under-sold benefits of nutrition via real food - the ground on which the shots will surely be fired.  I accept there will always be a number of loose cannons in the world regardless; you can't build them out entirely any more than a gardener can completely build out the weeds, these are not my concern.  My concern is that I shall fail to sufficiently defend against the sort of prejudice and bigotry driven by the legacy of Western medicine's path and progress to this moment, and which sits like a minefield in the minds of those people whose education has heretofore been solely by formula-is-the-way-the-truth-and-the-life type professionals or simply just the status quo of doctors and modern medicine = authoritative scientific best practice.  A minefield across which my book must roll to extend a pathway to the potentially skeptical reader's mind; into the heart of the garden I am writing.

This is a HeroRat, trained by APOPO to detect land mines.  They are invaluable in clearing the millions of mines left behind after conflict all over the world.  You can donate to these amazing people and adopt a life-saving rat by following this link.

The balance is key; the framing of the approach has to be - to my mind - just so.  It needs to be an inoffensive tank; one that an observer will see as on their side too, not as a threat to their worldview.  Just as the garden needs to be inviting, and not present a foreboding maze of dark hedges in which one might get oneself lost and confused.  I've been hesitant in many parts with my phrasing and framing because I did not realise properly the dynamic tension between these competing priorities.  Now I see it I find myself all of a sudden freer by an enormous degree.  I was trying to plant flowerbeds where the solid armour of rigorous logic was required, and making a clearly reasoned case where speaking from the heart and offering the scent of a delicate rose was key, in places.  Now I feel I can swing between them better, as is required.

I have spoken here before about Death's Beautiful Tools, and it is no surprise that the English language has never thrown up a phrase like "as beautiful as a tank".  To my mind however, they can be, just as gardens can be undeniably ugly.  Something which displays in its form, in the language of its lines, of its textures and silhouette the clear purposefulness with which it was conceived can be indeed an awe-inspiring and pleasant thing for the eye to behold.  The Panzer V as compared to the ungainly Sherman was the example I used in that prior post, and indeed it was a far superior weapon as well, in no small part because the angles and planes of its armour were better designed to deflect shot.  Its wheels more robust and easy to maintain, its gun larger and better balanced in the turret.  A killing machine and something to strike fear into the hearts of men perhaps - but my tank is to have a magic flag on its side - a flag that is painted in the colours of the reader's own country of mind, and it is to be open, not clamped shut.  It sits there quietly in the glade on a simple gravel path through the garden.  A place of strength and certitude, made of curves and angles both, rendered in cold and logical scientifically-wrought alloys.  Something to be relied upon.  A big solid carved lump of logic and rationality, attuned to the real world's problems yet bluntly set against those problems that would harm us.  All in the midst of a rambling open parkland of trees, shrubs and flowers, all useful and beautiful in their won right - a food forest and ecosystem always in a dynamic state, swinging between chaos and equilibrium (entropy and light) as nature and the seasons do.

I was being coy with myself I now see about the strength of attitude - the tankness - required.  Peace-loving me, the self-image I prefer to project wants it all to be soft and hug everyone with the charm and grace of its delicate petals and perfumes but the brute reality is that some steeliness is simply necessary when met by the sorts of rusted-on ignorance and militant defence of "because that's just how it is"-ness one encounters in so many places.  The medical fraternity is essentially a conservative creature and I'm glad of that cautious side of it but when it comes to a questioning of core principles, from a place NOT backed by massive research funds and corporate dollars, nor even a scrap of public health funding, it can be a very useful thing to point a steady gaze down the barrel of one's steely resolve and make the other guy stare back.  To see your logic, and to question if their old thinking may, in fact, be worth a revisit.

It might have been the motto of the USS New Jersey where I first saw it - what some state is the conservative movement's take on world peace - "Peace Through Superior Firepower".  I don't like it.  But if we apply it to matters simply of logic and reason, where superiority is being able to demonstrate what makes sense (which is exactly the aim of the Scientific Method) then I'll sit comfortably enough with the clash of armour.  Better must sometimes defeat once-was-better, such is the way of science and the world.  So now I shall turn my mind back to building a beautiful tank, one that invites the gaze and pleases the eye with its proportions, set just so in the garden I have laid made out of all the seeds planted by those who have gone before.  If you look very closely, you may see it through the foliage below - or not.  For I am making a magic tank, one that is only sen by those who need to see a tank.  Everyone else will see it for what it otherwise is - a garden sculpture to be subsumed ultimately by the dynamism and logic of life's progress through time.  A moment waiting patiently to be just ancient history.

Funny way to see the writing of what is essentially a textbook, but there you have it.  Inside my mind.  Me properly owning my inner hard-ass. :-)



  1. as always, so beautifully put. my former editor/poeto-phile self is swooning with joy.
    but one small thing: if you take out the "tube" part of it, then massive dollars *have* been spent on researching nutrition. it's just that one little piece of plastic that gets in the way of applying that knowledge to all people.

  2. Olga, I agree with the joy and the swoon. But it's more than just a "tube" ~~ I have Achalasia, and may be that tubes will never be a part of my life. But I have a Lower Esophageal Sphincter that pretty much won't open, and none, I repeat NONE of my doctors involved think that a life on Ensure/Boost is any kind of problem. And none of them has even the courtesy to be embarrassed. I found here while looking for blenderized recipes (so that some nutrients, at least, could "leak" through), but also found huge populations of peeps that can't swallow or swallow well, or swallow regular food facing the same cavalier/callous attitude. ANY shot fired over their bows is a good shot as far as I'm concerned.

    AND ~~ yep, massive dollars have been spent, and there is STILL no agreement on what's good: the AHA and the ADA are *still* pushing diets that will kill surely, if slowly, the patients they claim to be "protecting." ACK!

    Meanwhile, I love coming here. An unexpected bit of love and light and cheer!

    1. i hear ya... i sometimes think of it as some sort of split-brain thing: healthy balanced diet for all, unless you eat via tube, in which case all the corn syrup you could ever want. what's the problem? i fail to understand such a disconnect in otherwise supposedly intelligent people.
      i have type I diabetes, and the recommendations are also out of whack. i found that part of the problem is a paternalistic "well, it's inconvenient for the patient, we'll never get compliance anyway, so why bother with giving sound advice." glad you found eric's site. he's one good egg. :-)

  3. Do you know the location of the tank?