A new fave book: The Hour Between Dog and Wolf

Sometimes people send me books to review. For free! This is one of them.

For two months, I never slept a whole night through.

I would wake at three to fret and ruminate and wonder whether some, any of the money I was owed would come in, whether I could keep afloat for another week.

My concentration had been shot-gunned at close range, more holes than substance. I desperately needed to get it all together so I could fix the problem, but it was impossible.

I was wise.

I didn’t push myself to write or promote, no matter how urgent it was. I ate when logic dictated. I marched myself to yoga nearly every day. I did breathing exercises and tried to stay nonjudgmental. I knew what was happening.

In time, sleep and my concentration returned. I stopped flinching at loud noises. My appetite returned. I started producing work again.

If you want to know why I couldn’t sleep, and why yoga was a superior choice to trying to cudgel my brain into writing, then you should read The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust.

John Coates uses stories from the financial markets to discuss our biochemical reactions to short stress and long stress, to explore our sympathetic nervous systems, and why the phrase “gut feelings” is more accurate than we tend to think.

Scientifically, and I am a big science geek, this is fascinating stuff.

I would put this on my pile of Isn’t The World Fascinating? books. (Along with Predictably Irrational and Blink and all of the others.)

But he goes so much deeper into the significance of our biology. What it means for our work. Why the idea of “economic rationalism” is rubbish, and dangerous rubbish at that.

Why we – I – switch between “This could never go wrong, ever” elation and “We’re all gonna die in a ditch and no-one will even come to the funeral, oh woe” despair. (And maybe, what to change so that pattern doesn’t destroy us.)

And most beautiful and compelling of all, this book contains the most thorough squishing of the concept of mind/body duality I have ever read.

I’m as guilty as anyone of regarding my body as the vessel that carries my oh-so-important mind around. For most of my life I never questioned the idea that the purpose of the body is to deliver vital nutrients to the mind so it can do all the meaningful stuff.

So when I got to this line, I had to put the book down.

“Neuroscientists have discovered that conscious, rational thought is a bit player in the drama that is our mental life… the basic operation of the brain is the organization of movement.”

Take a moment, let it sink in.

The brain grew in order that we might move our bodies more dynamically, subtly, cleverly.

How often I – we! – slump in front of the computer all day, saying, “I’ll go for a walk later. I just need to write this first. I know I said that yesterday, but this is important.” This attitude makes some sense if we regard our bodies as badly-maintained but functional robots, moving our Big Important Brains around.

But if our brain exists to make movement, then we are dumb (in the most literal of senses) when we ignore our body.

I’ve known that, logically, for years. But this book helped me feel it. Changes are already happening as a result.

It’s an economics book, and a physiology lecture, and a philosophical treatise. And it’s very, very good.

I’ve already recommended it to four of my peers.

I can’t do a balanced review! All I can say is, “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf is super-insightful, and you should read it.”

So, yeah. You should.


Dandelions and saplings

You’ve got dandelions, you see, and you’ve got saplings. And them two things are just real different.

A dandelion, well you puff up your lips and you huff out your breath and you blow, man. Whooa! out your breath comes and them dandelion seeds they put on a parachute and they fly away, up and over the roof and over the head of that damn barkin dog and maybe they get into a fender-bender with the big gum tree there or maybe they float on to who knows where? I don’t.

And a sapling, right, a sapling you first gotta dig it a right-size hole and put in the right fertiliser and worm tea and whatnot and then you gotta take the pot in one hand and the sapling in the other and squeeze it and shake it and pull it outta that pot and riffle them roots and you realise that you made the hole too deep and so you fix that and you careful, careful put it in and pat the earth around and you water it, all that. And then you gotta come back with the water and the worm tea and y’garden gloves and y’weeder, every day for pretty much ever, tending that sapling until it’s big enough to mind its own business. And even then you gotta come back visitin pretty often.

So you got y’dandelions and you got y’saplings. You got that in your head?

Okay, so here’s where I’m drivin at. You don’t wanna get them two mixed up. You don’t wanna put down hundreds of saplings and then just ignore ’em. You see the council do that when they fix up a park, and it’s a cryin shame. Two weeks later most of them saplings’ll be limp or dead. Council don’t care about ’em, they’re okay with most of them saplings dyin so long as some of ’em make it through. But it ain’t the way to raise your garden, is it? If you go through the effort to plant a sapling, you gotta be prepared to make the effort to look after the damn thing.

And likewise, if you got dandelions then you don’t wanna care much about ’em. You don’t wanna tag each one and pin y’hopes on it, say, Hey number 27, lookin fine! You gonna be the one that makes it! cos most of them flat-out won’t. Most of them dandelion seeds will end up in a crack in the concrete somewhere, or in a gutter, somewhere they got no chance of growin. And half the few that make it to dirt will end up somewhere they ain’t wanted, and some proud lawn owner will pull ’em up and stamp on ’em. You send out a thousand dandelions, you might get ten that make it. Save your breath to puff out more, that’s the best bet with dandelions.

What am I drivin at? Whoo, the manners on you!

Well, you come out here and chatter at me while I’m weedin and I like the company so it’s just fine to me to hear about all this stuff I don’t en-tirely understand, like “scheduled tweets” and “mailin lists” and “webinars” and such. It’s innerestin, better than listenin to that damned dog bark every time I get near his precious fence – shut up, ya damn mutt! – so like I said, I don’t pretend to understand a lot of what you’re drivin at, but I get the jist… you sit at that fancy black computer and you send out things over that Internet you keep sayin you’re gonna show me one day. And I’m just wonderin if you know which of them things you put out there are saplings, and which of ’em are dandelions.

Just some food for thought. It’s prob’ly nothin.

Hand me that worm tea, wouldja?

If you want to improve your dandelion production, or grow healthier saplings – or both! –  the Lighthouse is full of resources to help.


The day you change.

It’s 1998.

My boyfriend and his mates are taking turns to play Diablo on his computer. I’m spectating. I point out where a magic ring has fallen, press the healing potion button while M. fights the Prime Evil.

I am cute, flirty, nice. I giggle. I have not yet figured out how to swear. I am Gamer Girlfriend. And I love it.

It’s 2000.

New city, new boyfriend, new computer. The air has more air in it. The light is almost solid. I’m dizzy and grounded and lost and happy.

Diablo II has just come out and been bought and installed on my new computer and I am having a shift in my head and so instead of sitting down in the observer seat I say, ”I want to play this game. And because it’s my computer, I want to go first.”

I am petrified: frozen solid by future incompetence, stepping out of my comfy rewarded place, potential rejection. Numbly, I create a character, the Amazon. I walk through the gates of the encampment and toward my first day as a hero.

There’s a walking dead, slowly ambling toward me. I move my mouse with a stabbing motion. Graceless and panicky, click! click! Zombie is dead. I am not.

Lightning bolt: I CAN DO THIS.

I panic at the first boss fight and get the men to do it for me. I am still remorselessly cute in ways that I do not understand are tactical. I’m 21, and I have so much learning to do. But I am not a Gamer Girlfriend any more. I am a Gamer.

It’s this morning.

The computer has been upgraded and replaced a half-dozen times. I kept the boyfriend, bought him his own computer. Our desks sit companionably side by side.

Diablo III was released three days ago. My character is a giant female barbarian, already level 15. Would be higher but for my regular World Of Warcraft raid on Wednesdays, and a long philosophical conversation about super-powers with The Dude last night.

I’d like to be playing right now, was tempted. It’s cold sniffly lonely weather and it would be so easy to plug in and switch off. To ignore my inbox and my to-do list, to swaddle and clickclickclick and eat chocolate sultanas.

But heroism becomes a habit. Too many comics and fantasy novels and far too many roleplaying games and mouse-clicks. Spend that much time pretending to be a hero and it tends to rub off on you.

So here I am.

Here I am. Entrepreneur, speed-metal Pollyanna. Cheerful cusser. Feminist. Cheerleader with an ambiguous relationship to bullshit. Science and spirit playing hopscotch together. Winter crocheter. Breadwinner. Bread baker. Scornful of gender roles.

My life has been defined and shaped by the day I said, ”I don’t want to watch you anymore. I want to play.”

I am a Geek. And it is magnificent.

And so are you.

Whatever you are doing, go forth and ROCK IT THE FUCK OUT.

If you want geek-tastic help, check out the Choose Your Own Business Adventure.

And fellow Diablo III players, my tag is TeamAwesome#1122. Come say hi to me and The Dude.

All my love,

This was originally sent to my weekly newsletter, Rise and Shine. If you’re not signed up, this is the kind of thing you’re missing out on.