Where the past comes to my aid…

I’ve had my COVID update jab today. This means I’ll be clear in a few weeks and can maybe be a bit social. Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who are COVID-vulnerable and who has a charming long and painful reaction to the vaccine.

Instead of a real post this week (and maybe next week and the week after, it depends on how long it takes to get through this) I thought you might like something from my past. Three things, in fact. If you scratch below the surface you’ll see a suggestion about how I approach the terrible things happening this month. The posts aren’t about that, however. The posts are about what I was thinking 15-16 years ago. The novels I was writing then were “The Time of the Ghosts” and “Poison and Light.” Both of them are still in print (“The Time of the Ghosts in its umpteenth edition, and “Poison and Light in its first) and the cover of “Poison and Light” contains artwork by Lewis Morley, who entirely understood my thoughts and dreams about the world of the novel. For a change, instead of saying “This book may be out one day, if I’m lucky” I can send you to the exact stories I wrote about, way back then. There aren’t many advantages to getting significantly older, but this is one of them…

(2007-11-26 21:45)

I need to tell you a story.

Once upon a time I was still active in the Jewish Community. At work on Friday afternoon I answered the phone and at the other end was a frantic community leader. “Gillian, you have to come to synagogue tomorrow, it’s very important.” He couldn’t tell me why. All he knew was that he had received a phone call from a well-known Melbourne rabbi (who had never met me) saying that Gillian Polack had to be at synagogue on Saturday morning. The rabbi knew I didn’t usually go to Shul, too, and he had said very firmly to “make sure she’s there”.

I couldn’t arrange a lift, so I hopped on my two busses very early and walked the half mile or so at the other end and found the Progressive Service and looked around for any reason I might have been summoned.

In front of me was a visiting cantor (but visiting from overseas – no links with me or mine), the backs of heads of the usual congregants, and about thirty aging pates. The usual congregants kept sneaking back to me to find out why I was there “Is there something happening this afternoon that wasn’t advertised?”

I whispered a question about the thirty heads to one of them and he whispered back “visitors from Melbourne, doing a tour – nothing to do with the cantor.” Somewhere in that crowd of heads probably lay my answer.

The service ended. Everyone stood up. The visiting group turned round to survey the back of the hall. I heard a woman’s voice cry, “There she is,” and one elderly lady ploughed out of the mob and towards me. The others all followed, like sheep. Some of them knew me, most of them were simply following their natural leader.

Valda is a friend. Except that it’s now “Valda was a friend”. I don’t believe it yet. Mum told me about her funeral just fifteen minutes ago.

She was nearly ninety and we just got on well. We snarked together at conferences and we stirred her kid brother (a close friend of my father’s and another friend of mine – the two of us have stood to the side at parties and brought down the tone of the proceedings since I was a teen) and we did a lot of very good volunteer work together. She died in her sleep, her life a resounding success.

I will miss Valda for a very very long time. And I will always remember how many people went into operation to make sure we got to chat when she was in Canberra. She could have rung me or she could have told my mother, but Valda simply told everyone she wanted to see me and – because it was Valda and we all loved her – everyone made sure it happened.

I will also never ever forget that horde of touring retirees descending on me. I was a whistle-stop for the Canberra part of their bus trip. And I bet Valda knew this when she called out “There she is.”

For the record, the questions were mostly about my Melbourne family. Also for the record, I asked in response “You’ve been away for a week and you miss them?” Valda hasn’t even been away a week and already there’s a hole in my life.

Taking the Train

Rock formation in New Mexico.

As my train rolled across New Mexico, I was reminded of how much I love this part of the world. Despite being someone who has spent most of my life close to the various huge bodies of water that set major boundaries of North America (the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico), I remain enamored of semi-arid and high desert places.

I have lived in cities since I left home (and the childhood home I left was already becoming a suburb). I love walkable cities with all the options they offer, not to mention the fact that those of us who hear different drummers can usually find a place in the city, while in small towns and the country, we are often out of step.

But all that open sky and space is glorious. It is easy to see why this was and is a special place to a lot of the indigenous people on this continent. It’s easy to want to be here.

I didn’t really mind the slowness of the train. I like the feeling of being in a neutral place, looking at beauty from my window. But it is absurd that we do not have the kind of train service we could and should have, with high speed trains going across the country and service to many more places.

To get to Kansas City from Oakland, I had to take a train to Bakersfield and then a bus from there to Los Angeles. Only in the city of angels could I get a cross country train to Kansas City. That’s the fastest route.

(For those who don’t live on the West Coast: San Francisco and Los Angeles are about 400 miles apart. California’s not as big as Texas, but it is damn big and has a bunch of mountains to boot.)

And the trains are so often late. They are not practical if your schedule is tight. Plus the sleepers are expensive and coach is not comfortable enough for long trips. (Also, the ventilation is OK and the filtration on my train seemed good, but I would not ride unmasked in coach.) Continue reading “Taking the Train”

Miracle and Wonder

So my kid had a vertebra removed. (CW: surgery)

Let me back up. I am a long-time medical history nerd; I wrote a whole book that touched on medieval medical education and midwifery, and (as one does) I left 90% of my research on the cutting room floor. My favorite factoid–which did make it into the book–is that around 1200 or so the European medical establishment came up with a new way to treat a broken leg: a splint to help the bone heal in its proper alignment. Because up to that point the treatment was to bend the leg so that the heel touched the buttock and tie it in that position, essentially self-splinting. Of course, once the bone healed, the leg was, if not useless, badly malformed. Splinting seems like a simple fix–but of course, it was controversial at the time.

So was hand-washing, when it comes to that. When Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of maternal death in puerperal fever post-childbirth could be reduced from almost 20% to 2% by the simple expedient of antiseptic procedure–hand-washing using chlorinated line solution, he was attacked by the medical establishment. As near as I can tell, they were insulted by the notion that they might be infecting their patients–even if they were coming directly from treating a septic wound to delivering a baby. Semmelweis couldn’t explain the mechanism of infection–it wasn’t until after his death that Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister popularized antiseptic procedure. Poor Ignaz had a breakdown (or was said to have had one by the colleagues who had him institutionalized) and he died of gangrene from a wound he got at the asylum.

That was 166 years ago. There was no question about hand-washing or germ theory at the hospital where the kid was treated. And there was a whole lot of stuff that seemed miraculous to my eyes. Over the course of just-a-titch over 11 hours, the neurosurgeon went in, took out the offending vertebra, put in a bone graft taken from a rib, wrapped the whole thing in a “cage” around which new bone will grow, and fused the new graft to two vertebrae on either side. The fact that they can do this at all takes my breath away (as the kid’s husband put it, “to us, it’s a miracle, but to the doctor it’s Thursday”). There are the small patient-comfort things that they do which can have an outsized effect on patient outcome–the drapes or garments that fill with warmed air to keep the patient warm during the surgery, for one, and all the monitoring to make sure that nothing in the rest of the body is slipping sideways while the surgeon was doing his work. I cannot even number all the things the anesthesiologist was tracking.

And then there’s this: nerve conduction monitoring. When you’re putting screws into vertebrae, you don’t want to get too close to the myriad nerves that run through the spinal column. Bad Things Could Happen. So they wired the kid to monitor nerve conduction in all her limbs, but especially in the legs and feet. And the monitoring was done by attendants in Idaho. Which doesn’t inspire awe until you learn that the surgery was taking place in California. Rather than fill up the operating room with extra bodies keeping track of nerve conduction, it’s easier and less costly and more effective to do it virtually. And by Jove, she came through with all the nerves and sensation intact.

As near as I can tell from a quick Google, vertebral corpectomy (removing a vertebra) has been around since the 1950s. I suspect that it was not, at the time, the routine high-success-rate procedure it is now. For nearly 70 years they’ve been refining the process and the tools, getting it closer to right, just in time for my daughter to need it. There’s a lot about medicine as it is practiced in this country that needs work. But all this week I’ve had this running through my head:

These are the days of miracle and wonder…
Medicine is magical and magical is artThink of the boy in the bubbleAnd the baby with the baboon heart

–Paul Simon, The Boy in the Bubble


I’ve started writing this week’s post too many times, and each time it’s had a different topic. This is partly because life is a bit complex right now. It’s also because I am ranging intellectually from my normal research (the craft of writers in fairy tale retellings) to all kinds of other subjects because this is the Month of the Science Fiction Convention. Normally I also have an historical fiction convention but this year I had to make difficult choices. I haven’t missed the history, because I enjoy talking about it so much that people keep asking me.

What I’m thinking about right now (in this current hour, to be precise) are Medieval versions of the various stories about Renard/Renaut the Fox. I’ve decided to give one of my characters a name in his honour. The character will be a werewolf, and his name will be Reinhard Fuchs. This is how I continue gently with my fiction even when I have no time or energy to write.

Most of the things I’m checking up right now won’t enter into the Fox panel at the World Fantasy conference this week, at all. It’s a panel of writers, not a series of papers by Medievalists, after all, but me, I need to know the relationship between the different Medieval texts and how they fit with Jewish fox fables and Aesop and… I’m tracing a cultural trail for the fox stories in Europe. I have until my medical appointment. My medical appointment is late, which is why I have this luxury time to do fun things.

I’m sorry/not sorry that this post is so short. Tracing manuscript transmission and cultural connections is one of my favourite things and it’s giving me a happy hour in the middle of the afternoon. When I’ve reported into the doctor and he’s sorted me out, then I have to return to real research. I would dream of Renard, but… he’s not a great character to dream of. In fact, he’s a very good character to avoid.

Nicola Griffith’s Menewood

Cover of Menewood, a novel by Nicola Griffith, showing Hild.I have been waiting to read Nicola Griffith’s Menewood since I finished Hild not long after it first came out in 2013. I grabbed Menewood as soon as my bookstore got it in this month and I read all 700+ pages (including notes) over about five days despite a long things-to-do list.

It was worth the wait. Not only that, reading it makes it clear that writing a book that is so deep and complex takes time. I’m not at all sure it could have been written any faster. It’s a sequel, and for that reason it works best if you read Hild first, but it isn’t like so many book series where each one is constructed in the same pattern.

The two books are historical fiction based on the very real St. Hilda of Whitby.  Griffith has written a woman — and in fact, a number of women — with agency while still writing a book that is very much embedded in its times.

This is a book set in 7th century England which shows all the ways that women of that time mattered.

Two things in particular struck me while reading: the writing and some undercurrents about power.

First the writing. I should say that I read every sentence, every word — no rushing over paragraphs of description to get to the action as I am wont to do, especially when reading historical fiction or big fat fantasy. This book repays that kind of attention, because there is something important in all those words, something that advances the story.

Griffith wrote an essay recently on writing immersive historical fiction that makes clear how she approached this book. In that essay, she says:

As a writer, I bring the reader into my fictional world through the characters’ physical, embodied experience. What a character feels, what they notice of their world—and how they feel about it—tells the reader a vast amount, and it creates empathy.

She does exactly that. Pleasure, daily chores, injury, hard labor, death — all are vivid in this book.

But that physicality is woven in with the politics, the wars, and the work of making sure everyone was clothed and fed and housed in a time long before the industrial tools that made some of that labor easy.

And all of that is woven into what is known of the history, so that even though this is a fictional story, it does not swear at the things we know of the past. Continue reading “Nicola Griffith’s Menewood

[reprint] Psychedelics, Transformation, and the Brain

I admit to being a biology nerd. Nothing delights me more than understanding how our brains work. This reprint offers a fascinating glimpse into how psychedelics might turbo-charge change (insight? enlightenment? feelings of transcendent peace?).

Psychedelics plus psychotherapy can trigger rapid changes in the brain − new research at the level of neurons is untangling how

New research hints at how psychedelics can trigger rapid, lasting change.
wildpixel/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Edmund S. Higgins, Medical University of South Carolina

The human brain can change – but usually only slowly and with great effort, such as when learning a new sport or foreign language, or recovering from a stroke. Learning new skills correlates with changes in the brain, as evidenced by neuroscience research with animals and functional brain scans in people. Presumably, if you master Calculus 1, something is now different in your brain. Furthermore, motor neurons in the brain expand and contract depending on how often they are exercised – a neuronal reflection of “use it or lose it.”

People may wish their brains could change faster – not just when learning new skills, but also when overcoming problems like anxiety, depression and addictions.

Clinicians and scientists know there are times the brain can make rapid, enduring changes. Most often, these occur in the context of traumatic experiences, leaving an indelible imprint on the brain.

But positive experiences, which alter one’s life for the better, can occur equally as fast. Think of a spiritual awakening, a near-death experience or a feeling of awe in nature.

a road splits in the woods, sun shines through green leafy trees
A transformative experience can be like a fork in the road, changing the path you are on.
Westend61 via Getty Images

Social scientists call events like these psychologically transformative experiences or pivotal mental states. For the rest of us, they’re forks in the road. Presumably, these positive experiences quickly change some “wiring” in the brain.

How do these rapid, positive transformations happen? It seems the brain has a way to facilitate accelerated change. And here’s where it gets really interesting: Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy appears to tap into this natural neural mechanism.

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy

Those who’ve had a psychedelic experience usually describe it as a mental journey that’s impossible to put into words. However, it can be conceptualized as an altered state of consciousness with distortions of perception, modified sense of self and rapidly changing emotions. Presumably there is a relaxation of the higher brain control, which allows deeper brain thoughts and feelings to emerge into conscious awareness.

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy combines the psychology of talk therapy with the power of a psychedelic experience. Researchers have described cases in which subjects report profound, personally transformative experiences after one six-hour session with the psychedelic substance psilocybin, taken in conjunction with psychotherapy. For example, patients distressed about advancing cancer have quickly experienced relief and an unexpected acceptance of the approaching end. How does this happen?

glowing green tendrils of a neuron against a black background
Neuronal spines are the little bumps along the spreading branches of a neuron.
Patrick Pla via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Research suggests that new skills, memories and attitudes are encoded in the brain by new connections between neurons – sort of like branches of trees growing toward each other. Neuroscientists even call the pattern of growth arborization.

Researchers using a technique called two-photon microscopy can observe this process in living cells by following the formation and regression of spines on the neurons. The spines are one half of the synapses that allow for communication between one neuron and another.

Scientists have thought that enduring spine formation could be established only with focused, repetitive mental energy. However, a lab at Yale recently documented rapid spine formation in the frontal cortex of mice after one dose of psilocybin. Researchers found that mice given the mushroom-derived drug had about a 10% increase in spine formation. These changes had occurred when examined one day after treatment and endured for over a month.

diagram of little bumps along a neuron, enlarged at different scales
Tiny spines along a neuron’s branches are a crucial part of how one neuron receives a message from another.
Edmund S. Higgins
A mechanism for psychedelic-induced change

Continue reading “[reprint] Psychedelics, Transformation, and the Brain”

Tea time

Today I’m putting together notes for a talk I’m giving this week. I’m giving it from my desk, but most of the people at the other end of my computer will be in China. A talk on tea to China.

This is when I feel like a fraud, but it’s not that at all. I’m talking about tea history and how to prepare for time travel through understanding how tea was brought into Europe and North America. I have Russian silver and a reproduction Dutch cup and a bunch of other things to show and tell.

I used to teach these things and now I’m nervous because I’m giving a talk. Tea to China, I tell myself, is not chutzpah. Tea history includes what Linnaeus knew about the plant, and why there are no teapots prior to a certain date and where beef tea fits in. I intend to detour via portable soup when I talk about beef tea, because they’re related and I have some portable soup right now. I won’t make beef tea, I’m afraid because I have no love for it.

What else shall I talk about? Medieval herbals (briefly) and popular tea literature in the 17th century. What Marco Polo said (or didn’t say) about tea and my guess as to why. Tea substitutes, including during the US Revolutionary War and in the early Australian colonies.

Lots of things.

My aim is to finish most of it today, along with most of my Patreon material. I have 2 other talks to prepare this week, too. This is on top of my regular research, but it’s fun stuff on top of my regular research. As long as I get it done and all ready for the world SF convention, things are good. October is busy, but delightfully so.

I think that this post calls for a cup of tea. I have a rather nice oolong to drink this afternoon. Which reminds me, I haven’t included even a mention of British Malaya and its relationship with oolong into my talk yet. Nor how coffee and tea identity-switched in British at a certain moment. Nor… I should write.

Is Literary Fiction Dead?

According to a recent essay in The Nation by Dan Sinykan, an English professor, literary fiction might soon be dead.

I’m probably one of many who will be glad to dance on its grave. While it is certainly true that not all fiction is great literature, the implication that only “literary” fiction is the truly good stuff made me furious long before I started writing science fiction.

Sinykan defines literary fiction as “fiction that privileges art over entertainment.” I find that definition ridiculous, given how much art I have found in science fiction and other work relegated to “genre” and how little I have found in some supposedly literary works.

I mean, are you really going to say that Ursula K. Le Guin didn’t create art? Or, for that matter, Joanna Russ or Octavia Butler?

And while F. Scott Fitzgerald had a lovely way with words, his subject matter was less than enticing. I remain unimpressed by The Great Gatsby, though I suppose the struggle between grifters and the more established rich is still a ripe subject for exploration.

When I was at Clarion West, Chip Delany told us that literary fiction was just another genre. It was a revelation. Of course, Chip’s work certainly reaches the standard of art.

I began to read science fiction at about the time literary fiction became a term – which Sinykan says happened in 1980 – because so much of what was supposed to be good fiction back then was boring the hell out of me. Continue reading “Is Literary Fiction Dead?”

Identifying bigotry, bias, and poor judgement

Today’s post was going to be short and simple because today I feel very short and rather simple. Except it’s my least favourite topic and it’s the topic that governs so much of our everyday. So it’s long and complicated.

Because I often encounter prejudice, I have ways of measuring how far it extends so that I can avoid problems and problem people when there are no solutions. I don’t walk away from anything lightly, but I need ways to assess if an event of group has become unsafe for me or if I’ve become so much a second-class citizen that I cannot be certain my voice will be heard when a problem arises. I have walked away from something just this week, which is why this post is so very personal.

These are some of the things I use to look for incoming problems and for current problems. Every one of them relates to experiences from the last month or ongoing issues. They don’t work for extreme prejudice ie I had no way of predicting the Molotov cocktails that were thrown at a building I was in or hate mail I received. I cannot gently walk away before bad things happen. It’s not a complete list in any way. In fact, it’s simply the tools I’ve had to use this last week.

1. Red flags.

Indications that someone doesn’t see things the way I do, and (the ‘and’ is important) may act on their viewpoint in a way that’s, at best, uncomfortable, or at worse, dangerous. I avoid someone who lives locally to me, for instance, because they always want to talk about Israel or money: I’m Jewish, so I must always want to talk about Israel or about money – those are two red flags. There are other red flags for other aspects of my life. Some of them relate to being safe as a woman, some being safe as a person with chronic illness and disabilities. This last week I’ve encountered ten red flags from three people. Red flags often feel creepy to people in the same group. They’re indications of where a path can lead. When I mentioned one of them (the gender-related series) their response was “That’s so creepy.” While they’re not themselves dangerous, they can lead to bad places. One red flag won’t make me walk away from a person. We all make mistakes and we can all be stupid, after all. A consistent display of red flag behaviour, however, is a safety issue.

I first try to address the behaviour, because some of it is copying others. If telling a person “This hurts me” or “This makes me uncomfortable because…” doesn’t change anything, I have to get out.

2. Equality of access

One of the easiest-to-spot evidence of othering is when two people have equal background and put equal work in and one is rewarded while the other has to move on. This has applied to me more in Cnaberra than elsewhere in Australia. I can teach a subject for years and have amazing student ratings and full courses every time and then be dumped from the institution without notice (ask me about why I’m not at the ANU one day) or be told that, while other people are remembered by the organisation, I have to apply as if I’m a new person. I ask about my records with them and they say, “We’re not looking at history.” Except they do… with non-minority writers. Because of my disabilities, I have limited energy and not a lot of income, so it’s very easy to make something impossible for me by making it a two day job to apply for something that will give two hours income. If I weren’t in such a small community and if I didn’t hear that others are not made to jump through the same number of hoops and that their experience is counted and that most of the jobs I have to apply for as if I’ve never been seen locally are given to people whose names have come up in discussions… I’d assume it was a level playing field. There are, in other words, organisational ways of othering and of keeping undesirables out.

It took me a long time to realise this was happening. My moment of illumination came when someone carelessly said “We can’t consider you because you’re not experienced enough. The others have more qualifications, too.” This sounds innocuous. Except… I have two PhDs, a teaching qualification, 30 years teaching experience, ten novels, thirty years organising experience, non-fiction published on the subject. even the occasional award. What did my replacements have? About 1/10 of these things. What works in my favour outside a bigoted community is an actual impediment within one.

3. Fairness of treatment

This is so complicated in real life, but it comes down to “If you have two incidents at an event, are they being treated using the same set of values and the same approach/process and are all people involved in them being treated with equal fairness.” This includes communication about the incident. It’s so very personal at the moment that I’m not going to give an example, because it’s a bit triggery. Triggers are things to be avoided.

4. Being included

Who is at a social event and why? How are they treated? There are some once-close-friends who I will not dine with any longer because they only include me when they want to prove they’re not bigots and when I am at the same table as them they talk down at me. I’m only allowed to speak when spoken to. I have to respect the social order.

Or, from the other direction, is there someone who is continually left out even though they technically belong in a particular group? Are there events that don’t include this one person time after time? And, if asked, do the orgnaisers simply assume someone has asked them? Additionally, if the person is disabled, does anyone even both to ask “What do you need us to do so that we can include you?” or is the assumption made early on that it’s easier to invite everyone and expect that they won’t be able to come.

This kind of thing is very badly recognised and handled in Australia because we don’t like to admit we do it.

5. When specific racist/problematic things occur, how those in charge react?

When there is hate mail or stones or Molotov cocktails or something else, how do the people in charge handle it? For years I was the go-to person for advice on these things. Now I’m told socially, “Look, antisemitic event in Canberra. You should know.” It’s done with apparent sympathy, but no support, and no sense of how I may feel to be told of a Hitler salute and that it was handled with less effort than the amount taken to deal with issues where I was seen as the guilty party. And that’s the caring people. It’s a red flag that the allies only see themselves as allies. This relates to people from majority background, or some other minorities. It also includes people who come from minority backgrounds but do not have the life experience to handle problems for others from that background, but who think that they do – this is a very sticky and thorny area. All of these people can unintentionally compound a problem. It’s also a red flag that the wider community accepts something.

There is one very difficult area here. I said that it was a very sticky and thorny area in the previous paragraph. What is this sticky and thorny area? Passing: ie it includes people from the same minority background who can ‘pass.’ Some of us have knowledge about handling difficult issues, and some do not. Just because someone from a minority passes, doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to make wise decisions… and it doesn’t mean they don’t have this knowledge. It depends so much on the individual.

If I weren’t public, for example, about being Jewish, I could publicly skip all the cultural and religious aspects of Judaism and pass as white in Australia. It wouldn’t negate my knowledge, and I was brought up traditionally and so have a fair amount of that knowledge, and my historical knowledge is mostly relating to Europe, which deepens my understanding. I know stuff, in other words, and can give good advice if asked. (The red flag for me is who rushes into things without asking, but that is an offshoot of 2 – experts who are not seen as experts because they are being othered so their expertise is not acknowledged.)

A very well-known group that has ‘passed’ is those Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews who went into hiding for their own safety. Many Sephardi Jews were killed after Inquisitional interrogation brought out that they ate Jewish-style eggs, or salad on Saturday afternoon ie that they hadn’t relinquished all Jewish culture. Some remained Jewish in secret and a few of them are emerging into the Jewish world now. Most converted to Christianity or Islam and remained safe but lost hundreds of years of heritage.

For anyone who can pass, it can be simply not telling people about your private life and that can save you from so many mean places. I choose not to hide, and these last two years I’ve questioned my own wisdom in making that choice. Anyone who cannot hide, of course, has to deal with a lot more garbage than those of us who can and those of us who do. How those in charge of a place or an event react to problems hurts those who cannot and those who will not hide their minority identity consistently and often.

This is not even close to a complete analysis. It’s based on my experiences, mostly over the past year. There are bigger and much better analyses. The first place I send people who want to get a handle on this is https://nyupress.org/9781479840236/white-christian-privilege/ While Joshi’s book is about the US, the first three chapters in particular apply to Australia. Why is this so important? Many of the people who cause such problems have good intent and are otherwise nice people. They don’t, however, have a solid way of measuring their world view, understanding how it affects their thoughts and actions, and using understanding to handle bigotry. The work is often given to those who are bigoted against, which means that the experts are also the ones who need support. It means, also that those who have to deal with all these things in their everyday have to be willing to take on, as voluntary work, helping privileged people. Step one is understanding, and Joshi’s work is the first step in the path to that. Just the first step. Right now, I really wish more people in my home town would take that first step.

Ironically, I sued to teach these subjects to public servants. I was thrown out of that job without notice and without even a letter saying “Sorry we’re losing you after 20 years.” I found out I’d lost the job because of a notice saying “Your email account is being cancelled.” Manifestations of prejudice are varied and some can only be handled by walking away.

Sometimes Vindication Happens

I am thrilled to see Dr. Katalin Karikó and her research partner Dr. Drew Weissman win the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on messenger RNA (mRNA).

It’s not just that their years of work provided the basis for the mRNA vaccines against Covid that have saved so many lives and protected even more people from serious illness. More important to me is that Dr. Karikó stuck to her research despite being shoved aside — she’s an adjunct professor — and never getting grants.

She believed in the potential for mRNA and she was right even though no one paid any attention to her except Dr. Weissman. “No one” includes prestigious journals like Nature and Science.

There are a lot of implications in all this.

First, I find Dr. Karikó an excellent role model for scientists, inventors, writers, artists, activists, and the many others who have a vision of something that can be done. Hang in there. You might succeed in what you’re doing and even might be recognized for it.

But let’s admit that being recognized is a long shot, especially in one’s lifetime. All too many of our great artists and even scientists died broke, with their work only being acknowledged much later.

I suspect it is even more common that people do good work that never gets noticed, maybe never even gets used. It’s not them, it’s the system, and we are all the poorer for those losses.

And of course, some people hang onto a vision that is, in fact, lunacy. In truth, though, I think far more people who have a vision worth pursuing give up because it’s too damn hard.

I tend to hope that everyone who sees something important, something vital, something perhaps only they see stays with it despite a lack of support. This is core to our humanity. Continue reading “Sometimes Vindication Happens”