2015 swimming

deep in the heart of summer

We’re cooking now, boy.  Daily swimming, lying around in the air conditioning reading fat books while waiting for it to get cool enough to move, tomato sandwiches, being night owls because the heat isn’t so bad in the dark.  Eating peaches over the sink.  Cicadas.

In contrast to the pleasures of summer, though, I struggle with stomach-dropping fear about climate change.  You know that feeling?  About which I generally feel quite helpless?  I try to give myself breaks, think about other things.  But all this hot weather (we had the hottest June ever on record and July has been crazy, too, 98 degrees, 98% humidity most days) keeps it in my mind, in the back somewhere, simmering away.  It wrecks my full summery-enjoyment.  Which sucks.

[Whoa, hang on, isn’t this a light, up-beat blog???  Yeah, I thought so, too!]

Here, have a Yotsuba, just about my favorite manga series, ever.  I just read this one to the kids, who are not too old to enjoy, thank goodness.  LAUGH OUT LOUD for reelz.  yotsuba 11

Ahhh. Yotsuba calls it Glow Ball warming, which is adorable.

In other news, we’re still running (can you believe it? Nor can I), 2-3 miles, 3x a week.  Sophie and Paul chat as they lope along while I pant and moan behind them, flailing weakly in their direction, “…go on…save yourselves….”  Sometimes Luc comes, too, although he is, shall we say, less committed.  “I want running to be my hobby, not my religion.”  He really said that!  He’s NINE.  Freaking smart-ass, hilarious kid….

Unfortunately, every time we see something cool (a double rainbow! Llamas! A cool black and yellow snake!) I don’t have my camera, while, if I lug it along, it’s guaranteed there will be nada but asphalt and sweat.  So, no photo for you.

Ooo, but this is fun: I start drafting on the new novel in ONE WEEK.  I’m halfway through my scene cards.  We’ll see how well they work this time.  Last book’s scene cards were pretty much a failure.  First feelings can be deceptive.

scene cards for precog book

See how the top 8 are super cramped with itty-bitty writing going up the sides? And how the bottom 8 float in a sea of white space?  Yeah, I’m still working on the bottom 8.  Trying for a shorter book this time, 16 scenes instead of the 30 (I think it was?) in the last one. Two pov characters instead of three.  A more streamlined plot.  We’ll see how that all works out.

Planning is fun!  Planning is when I haven’t fucked anything up yet!

Drafting set to begin August 1.  One more week to finish up the scene planning, where the chant is: protag with a need, in conflict with an antag with a need, in a setting, leading to a unique TURN that upends expectations.  One turn per scene, every scene must have a conflict and an antag, no exceptions, plus note down any funny beats or Points of Interest along the way.  Inciting incident, set-up, three trial-cycles, mid-point, final ramp up after failure of third, big confrontation tying up both inner and outer arcs, conclusion, denouement, yada yada yada.  Gotta love CRAFT.  I mean, I fucking got this, right?

I’m always so full of hubris before the novel breaks me into little pieces.

Happy mid-summer everyone!  (Try not to think about glow ball warming too much…).

girl with all the gifts

review: The Girl With All the Gifts

For a long time, zombie stories focused on the human survivors trying to get out of a zombie infested territory to safety.  But lately, zombie-as-protagonist stories have shown up, like iZombie the graphic novel by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, or My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland.  The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey is one of these—only with more literary chops, complex characters, fascinating science, and freaky-horrific world building than a dozen lesser zombie titles combined.  Add in a super compelling voice and you’ve got a sci-fi/horror/literary bomb to blow your mind with, even if this isn’t your usual genre-taste.
Melanie is the ten-year old protagonist, a genius in a strange boarding school where she is muzzled and locked up at gun point at night, along with the other children. Although it doesn’t seem to bother her much—she’s more focused on the adoring crush she has on one of her teachers.  Her bright, inquisitive mind makes her extremely likable, and indeed, one of the most amazing parts of this book is Melanie’s arc, what she retains of her idealistic and open-hearted beginnings, and what she lets go of as she faces the truth of her world and her nature.The middle part of the book is the classic “road trip through zombie country” but the book is never a series of action-sequences or feats of bad-assery. This isn’t that book.  The moments of violence and conflict are terrifying and desperate, with mounting stakes and hopelessness that make the intensity of the reading almost too much to take by the end. I kept having to take breaks, just to get my breath and get out of my own stew of stress-chemicals.  The point isn’t the fight.  The point is how the characters endure, or not, and what it means to survive all of this.  Or not.The science is fascinating.  Not a tacked-on “reason” for zombies, but a thoroughly believable scenario, terrifyingly depicted.  Carolyn Caldwell is the scientist trying to understand what has happened and save humanity—making her hunger to dissect Melanie’s brain to understand why Melanie is a thinking, feeling zombie (and not a cannibalistic human-shaped husk) compelling and understandable.  Although, in that way, Caldwell is more of a brain-hungry zombie than Melanie.

But could Caldwell’s brutal practicality save the human race?  And does that justify…anything? How about the live-dissection of children?  But why ARE Melanie and the other children the way they are?  Is it partial immunity?  Perhaps a cure, or a vaccine, could be created, if only Caldwell can finish her research.  Which you can’t help but hope for, even as you detest her methods and want Melanie to win.  Conflicts like these are the meat of the book.  No easy answers, no black/white.

Miss Justineau is Melanie’s teacher, and, for her own reasons, determined to keep Melanie alive. But perhaps compassion is the wrong feeling to have for the infected.  Is it just a knee-jerk, foolish reaction to the appearance of a “child”?  Trying to hold onto her own humanity—and the way she offers what she has to Melanie, from kindness to Greek mythology—might be the thing that saves Melanie, or it might be too little too late for this world.  Sgt. Parks, the soldier who tries to keep the rest safe with his single-minded focus on security, certainly thinks so. His arc, more subtle than Melanie’s, starting from monster-soldier, is deeply moving.

The strange world of the zombies is revealed layer by layer.  But the remnants of our destroyed society, now shaped by profound fear, is possibly more horrific than the zombies themselves.  The strange hope that springs out of the Melanie’s final choices is simultaneously devastating and transformative.  Like Caldwell, it is equally balanced between poles: terrible and hopeful.  Disturbing and compelling.

I’ve been feeling the echoes of the book for days.  For example, I keep catching myself marveling (in a kind of terrified and disgusted way) at my frivolous caring about things like lipstick or cell phones or tv shows while the environment is degrading around us as a rapid rate. Heavy stuff. It’s a book that can make you take stock.

Highly recommended.

you have been hacked

mayaland was hacked!

Honestly, why would anyone bother?  And who are these people?  It’s baffling.

But yes my blog was hacked—to pieces—and it cost me $200 in hired help to get it put right again.  So annoying!

If you stopped by in the last few days and found nothing here, that’s why.  But it’s back, I’m back, whew.  I’m going to go lie down now.  Tech support is hard.  More posts to come.

choclate bread 3

chocolate bread is my new will to live

I’m still in my weird, just-finished-a-book mood/funk/blues/feelings-thingy, so I’m taking the standard Rx in the form of small but doable projects that provide an experience of Easy Success…plus chocolate.  This is my tried and true medicine for What Ails Me and it always works (or at least distracts me until I Get On With It).  So, as Exhibit A, I offer last night’s adventure for your amusement:

I was sitting on the couch, feeling discontented, (“What are you doing?” “I’m experience malaise.” “Ah.”), when my eye fell on the white box on the top of the hutch.  “That’s it,” I announced. “I’m getting down the bread machine.”

“We have a bread machine?” said Luc.

“Yes, it’s that white box on top of the hutch.”

“What white box?”

The kids have been seeing “that white box” sitting up on the hutch their entire lives, so, of course, they couldn’t see it at all.  “Oh that thing,” Luc said when I finally got up and pointed at it. “I thought it was part of the house.”

I had to stand on a chair to get it down.  It had literally a decade’s worth of dust on the top:

choclate bread 4

(Angry “wash me” face courtesy of Sophie.)

I purchased this bread machine at a yard sale maybe fifteen (twenty?) years ago.  I did make bread with it back then, in our old house—I had even left my favorite recipe on a piece of paper curled inside, like a message in a bottle (see below for recipe)—but I haven’t touched it, not once, not since the babies were born.   In fact, it’s been so long since I used the thing that when I was trying to figure out how it worked way back when I first got it (sans instructions), I didn’t look it up on the internet because back then you didn’t do that.  The internet just…wasn’t the internet yet.  We’re talking that long ago.  Like, the Pleistocene.

But dang if it didn’t work perfectly on the first go.  (After a thorough cleaning.  Cough.)

chocolate bread 1

You might think that pretty loaf of bread is whole wheat bread.  But you would be mistaken.

chocolate bread 2

It’s chocolate bread!  Because remember the Rx is one part <short term, easily met goals> mixed with one part <CHOCOLATE>.

And how do we yurt people eat chocolate bread?

choclate bread 3

We put Nutella on top. OF COURSE.  And rainbow sprinkles.  And we drink chocolate milk with it.  Natch.

Because if you can live in paradise, why live anywhere else?

Chocolate Bread Recipe:

1 1/4 cup milk

1 egg

3 cups bread flour (NOT all purpose or it won’t rise as well)

1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar

1 t salt

1 1/2 fast rising yeast

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat the milk to around 80 degrees and put it in.  Next the sugar and the salt, then the flour.  Make a well in the top of the flour for the yeast.  Cut the butter into chunks and put them in the corners.  Don’t add the chips yet.  1.5 lb loaf, light crust, basic white bread setting.

Fire it up. Scrape the sides a bit with a rubber spatula at first to get everything incorporated.  Check the dough ball at the 2:30 mark to either add a bit of water or flour, depending on what it needs to get the right consistency.

Add the chips in when it gives the Mix-in signal.  The dough will be warm enough to melt the chips.  If you’d rather have chocolate chip bread, wait until the very end of the 2nd knead to put them in or they will melt.  You can help them last if you freeze the chips first.

I recommend going for a run while the machine does its thing because it mitigates the guilt of eating the bread all up while it is still warm.

Don’t forget the nutella.  Or straight up butter is pretty marvelous, too.

In other news, I have started the next book.  Thank goodness.

the runners banyak

running and the big questions like will i write another book

What are we doing here, why do we keep doing the things we do, how do we decide what to do each day when we wake up, what the hell is going on, what is life, what is death, is there more?

I always, always feel this way right after I finish a book.  I’ve written enough of them now that I know this about myself, so at least I don’t fall into the trap of taking myself too seriously.  The questions stem from the kernel of…Should I write another one?  Can I not?  (Doubtful.)  But there are SO MANY books in the world, all wanting to be read.  Seriously, why bother?  Which leads to all those bigger questions in a tumbling avalanche of uncertainty.  Maybe I should have been a philosopher.  Maybe it’s a simple chemical crash after the hype and stress of putting out a book.

Oh, but THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who has bought Ghost Fugue, for 3 Voices in the last couple of days!!!  I’m watching for some reviews to start trickling in, pins and needles.  I find I’m thrilled for every sale and every person out there who might read and get something out of it.  Which might sound sort of noble, but it’s really quite selfish of me, to want to feel like I’m not just taking up space.  [rolls eyes at self]

In a parallel track, we’ve been running.  We’re about three months in now.  SuperCoolHusband, and the two kiddos, and oh, Henry The Dog (he’s absurdly happy with this new development) and me, yes me, I actually run, well, sort of jog, slowly.  Three times a week, we’re up to about 2.5 miles each time (kids do more like 3, running back and forth for us slow-pokes).  I can’t believe we’ve stuck with it this long.  We’ve actually been talking about running a 5K race.  Shocking!  Well, it wouldn’t be Sophie’s first, but the idea that I might run a race is like talking about someone else.

And then this morning I ran across this video, a short movie asking hard, personal questions of people while they are running.  It’s exquisitely compelling.  The running both seems to open the people up, as if their masks are thinner or missing because of the flush and endorphins, and also is a fairly on-the-nose metaphor for how we run through life, striving and efforting, trying to figure out how the hell to deal with everything that happens to us, the very things the people are talking about as they run…It’s a great piece of film!

Anyway, here, watch this, it’s wonderful, and it’s way better than listening to me winge!  I’ll get on with writing soon and perk up.

The Runners from Banyak Films on Vimeo.

Isn’t that something?

The kids and I are once again listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones in the car, it is just a wonderful book, and makes me feel how much I would love to write a book that someone, somewhere loved as much as I love it.  But maybe it’s best to just write because it’s there, because I seem to get depressed when I don’t do it, because I start wondering if there is any point to anything.  Could be writing is just a distraction to that question, and not an answer, but maybe it doesn’t matter.  Must keep running somehow.  Gah, I’m so morbid when I’m not writing [laughing].

(Sophie pattted me this morning and said, “there, there, Mom.  Have some chocolate.  That’s the answer.  The question is pretty much irrelevant.”

She’s so smart.)

Final Ghost Fugue Cover 250

ghost fugue, for 3 voices…LIVE at amazon!

It’s out, it’s out!  Ghost Fugue is out!  And I’m nearly nauseous with nerves.  Typical for a book release!  And yes, I know, I said June 21, but it used to take a whole day for a book to wander through the back corridors of Amazon before making its way, blinking into the bright light of the internet, so the smart publisher started that journey the day before release.  But apparently they’ve sped things up because this time it only took 30 minutes!  Yikes!

But no problem.  That just means everyone gets an extra day of .99 to get their copy cheap.  You ARE going to buy a copy, right?  You should!  It’s an awesome book!  Ghosts, violins, creative swearing, food, music, sex, freaky citizens of Dead City, manual labor, funny side characters, a complicated three-way relationship, money, family issues, more ghosts….  What more could anyone need in a lazy weekend urban fantasy read?  Plus it’s freaking 96 degrees here right now, so all anyone can do is lie around and read.  Maybe I should have made it .96 cents!  I totally should have done that.

Anyway…(I talk type fast when I’m nervous, can you tell?)…go buy my book, give it a read, and if you like (of course you’ll like it) PLEASE WRITE A REVIEW, pretty please, pleasepleaseplease, cherries on top and all.  Just a line or two will do, because the poor thing looks positively naked right now with no reviews.  Early reviews make a huge difference for a new book.  THANK YOU.

(Plus, if you find a typo, TELL ME.  I’m a couple slipped through, they always do, despite my copyeditor and I combing the damn thing with a flea comb.  Thanks!)

New book! New book at Amazon!  Whew!  I think it’s time to go pour a glass of my granddaddy’s scuppernong wine….

new novel: ghost fugue, for 3 voices…coming june 21!

Look at my sidebar, go on, look at the shiny new book coming in ten days!  And it’s got its very own page on the blog, WOOT, with, like, a description and everything, DOUBLE WOOT.  I did a prelim cover reveal post not long ago, but now we have the real thing, Ghost Fugue, For 3 Voices, and LO, an actual release date:

JUNE 21.

WOWOWOWOWOW. [imagine the camera zooming in and out here]

Summer Solstice!  Because if you can do things when the planets are aligned, you should.

The plan is to release it to my loyal readers and email-list peeps for .99 for that first day, and then bump it up to its regular price. I’ll send out an email when it gets closer with all these deets.

Meanwhile, I’m busy getting the final copyedits sorted out, getting files properly formatted, test driving the whole mess of it, etc.

I’m super-stoked to finally have Ghost Fugue, For 3 Voices, coming out.  It’s been a long time in the making.



pizza 1

five random things we did this week

1- Visiting a real live Tibetan Sand Mandala

Every couple of years a group of Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Monastery come through the area and throw down some gorgeous sand art in the form of one of their amazing mandalas.  You can go watch them making it, and then when they’re done, they sweep it all up and, with appropriate ritual and care, toss it into the river.  Here is this year’s mandala completed.

sand mandala

It’s the Amitayus Mandala, the Buddha of Boundless Life.  I’m not sure what boundless life is, but it sounds good.  Here is a cool page about the construction process.  Candy colored and intricate!

The monks we met were shy and friendly (and wearing running shoes the color of the their magenta robes, I loved that).  People were meditating all around it, which gave a certain vibe to the proceedings—lots of bowing and nodding and smiling.

I always get the feeling that if one could look at the energetic planes of super-spiritual-something-or-other where these mandalas exist, surely they are 3-d, rising up off the floor and towering over our heads, a huge castle with fancy turrets and gingerbread decorations.  You know what I mean?  Or, alternately, I’m a 3-d person looking at the 2-d universe, fully alive just…flat.  Only I think the mandala must be several ‘ds’ above us and they are looking down into our world like we are the flat ones….

2- Kitten therapy!

Playing with a kitten, or, say, watching a kitten battle a piece of toilet paper, or a piece of string, or its own tail—anything, really—has undeniable positive impact on one’s brain chemistry, cortisol levels, and general well-being.  Call it Kitten Therapy (TM). Basically, if you have a chance to be around happy kittens, you should totally do it.  It will add years to your life.

kitten therapy

Here is our kitten, brought home from my Granddaddy’s old boat barn, once merely feral, now a CRAZY BEAST OF PURRING CLAW AND FUZZ DOMINATION.  He plays non-stop, full-on, attacking anything the moves with great pleasure and gusto.  Falling over is no deterrent.  (Our older cat Momo hates him.)  We’ve been calling him Jupiter, Ju-Ju-Bee, June Bug, and Juice Box.  He doesn’t care.  He only pays any attention when we say, “kitty kitty…”  Or, as I like to do, stomp into the Noah House where he is living and roar, in a low, growly, aggressive voice, “KITTEN!!!”  He always comes out running and purring and ready for Mad Max Fury Road paws-to-the-wall action for that.

Kittens don’t come along very often and they only last for a month or two.  Must soak up all the kitten-ness I…possibly…can!

3- Kids VS The Dads: Soccer SMACK DOWN

Park day brought out an unusual number of Dads the other day and somehow it turned into an epic battle for soccer supremacy.  Competition was fierce.  Rules were hotly debated, such as the controversial scoring against your own team by accidentally backing through the goal-line while carrying the ball foul.  (Oops.)  Who’s turn was really it to throw the ball back in?  Who’s shoes would be used as goal posts?  Could (the now) barefoot players really hold their own against those wearing combat boots?


Shorties vs the Talls, WHO WOULD WIN?

4- Ice skating on the hottest day of the year (so far).

90 degrees!  I know, I know, it’s only going to get hotter.  August around here often hits 100.  But sheesh, it seemed plenty hot to me.  Time to hit the indoor ice skating rink!

ice skating 1

It was Sophie and Luc’s first time.  Darn good thing kids are made of rubber because they fell down.  A lot.  Still, they kept laughing and popping back up, so I guess it was okay.  Bonus round: open mouthed staring after they cleared the rink for the figure-skating crew.  Oh la la, so fancy with their flippie moves and twirls.

5- Pizza from scratch!

I turned Ghost Fugue over to my intrepid copy editor at the end of last week and, possibly as a result, I had several days of feeling lost and adrift.

“I’ve lost the will to live,” I told the kids.  “I need an easy, short-term goal to keep me going.”

They suggested cooking.  Good idea!  Somehow we narrowed the options down to homemade pizza.

We used this recipe, which was awesome.

But making dough from scratch seemed to warrant a new pizza pan, rather than trying to make due with our warped, dented, encrusted cookie sheets.  I looked for a silicone pastry mat, too, for rolling it out but couldn’t find one.  “What about a pizza stone?  Do we need one of those?”  I said.

“Naw,” said SuperHubby.  “What we need is to build a cob pizza oven.”

Sophie groaned.  “I just want some lunch!  The cookie sheets are fine!”  She’s so practical.

I did buy the pizza pan.  $8 bucks!  What a pretty, round pizza it made!  Here it is before cooking:

pizza 1

Luc only likes cheese pizza, so you can see his little section over there.  The rest is triple cheese, mushrooms, olives, and fresh oregano.  Here it is after it cooked:

pizza 2

O. M. G.  It was good.  REALLY REALLY good.  Maybe the best pizza I’ve ever had.  It totally restore my will to live for, like, hours.

And that’s it, five random things we did this week.  Nothing too fancy, but it suited us just fine.

muse meditation 4

in which i meditate with an EEG machine, the Muse Brain Sensing Headband, and fail to become immediately enlightened, dangit

I’ve tried to get into meditation for decades and generally failed to enjoy or stick with it because…well, I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a novelist and am just generally fascinated by my own thoughts (or maybe I’m a novelist BECAUSE I’m fascinated by my own thoughts…) but yeah.  Meditation has failed to become a part of me.  I get bored.  I want the bennies but I just can’t put in the time on the meditation cushion to get them.

But!  I’ve had a chance to play around with a borrowed Muse Brain Sensing Headband for about a month now and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty cool.  It might be something that could get me to meditate regularly.  At least, I’ve been at it for a month now and still enjoying the experience.  So…go Muse!

muse meditation 1

So what is it?  It’s basically a portable, home, EEG machine. The narrow strip with the sensors goes on your forehead and the flappies go behind your ears.  Surprising that such a tiny, non-wired (it uses bluetooth to send data and probably some form of magic to read your thoughts) senses your brainwaves and gives you real time feedback via audio cues about whether you are focusing on your breath or wandering off and thinking about a million other things.  That’s right, it cues you when your mind wanders. Like, “YO, MAYA!  You’re drifting off again!  Get back on the breath already!  Sheesh…”

Okay, it doesn’t shout.  Actually it makes stormy weather sounds and my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to calm that weather down by focusing. Biofeedback with your brain.  Gamification of meditation.  Mindfulness training wheels. If focusing your brain on one thing is mindfulness.  (Is it?  Any longtime meditators want to comment on that?)

Anyway, after your session, you can look at a graph to see how well you did.  The goal is to keep your wavy line down in the “calm” zone, something like this:

muse meditation 2 Look at me meditate!  Here we have seven minutes of my brain being super chill.   I actually have no idea how I did it that day because this is more typical for me: muse meditation 3Some up, some down.  Some all around town.

It feels oddly revealing to show the world these wavy lines!  As if I’m a little more naked now….  Don’t judge my brain!

The Muse fits around my head easily, makes contact with all its sensors in a couple of seconds, and has given me zero problems.  You have to do this little calibrating thing at first where you think of various things (fruit, tv shows, colors, etc) as prompted by the app, for maybe a minute, then you’re good to go.  I’ve been quite impressed with the hardwear end of things.

But I have, of course, been experimenting.  I mean, when I first tried it I was all, “how the heck do I know it’s doing anything?  That wavy line could be the stock price of ice cream in Mongolia.”  So I tried messing with it.  For example, I’d try to be “calm” for five minutes and then I’d THINK REALLY HARD for a minute.  Or I’d have the kids sneak up on me at a predetermined moment and shout at me.  Or I wear it walking around and talking, or holding my breath, or watching Fail Videos.  I want to try Musing while sleeping, but that will need an assistant and some planning, just haven’t gotten to it yet.  But I will.

Turns out I can predictably make that wavy line jump like a mofo.  Look:

muse meditation 4

See the sharp spike into the “active” zone at about the five minute mark?  That’s me doing math problems.  See the three or four peaks in the “active” zone around the 15 minute mark?  That’s Luc asking me for some breakfast.  (See how I didn’t finish out the 20 minutes?  That’s me going to make said breakfast.)  More on that middle bumpy section in a minute

But WTF?  What goes on in the black box of my skull is supposed to be private. Yet somehow this science fiction-looking device KNOWS.  It knows.

If I get arrested any time soon, you’ll know why.

After a while of reliably popping up spikes in the line, I started trying different meditation techniques.  Three, actually: the classic count-the-breath to ten then repeat,  keeping awareness on the breath (no counting), and focusing on a mantra.  (Anyone have others I should try?)

Subjectively, pre-Muse, I have  preferred the mantra approach because it feels somehow more free, less yoked.  The focus-on-the-breath thing (either counting or awareness) feels more like my brain is shackled down, more effortful. Counting the breath will even give me this focused intensity in my forehead, as if I’m drawing my eyebrows together to focus harder (I’m not actually moving my face).  Maybe I’m trying too hard?  Mantra-focus doesn’t do any of that.  Plus my breath is freaking boring.

But check it:  the Muse could totally pick up on all this.  Look at that last graph.  The first six or seven minutes I was doing count-the-breath (except for the bit where I was doing math) and my friend, the Wavy Line, stays mostly down in the “calm” and lower half of “neutral”.  Then from about seven minutes to twelve minutes I was doing mantra meditation and the line is mostly in “neutral” with some dips into “calm” and some into “active”.  Then I went back to count-the-breath  for a minute or two (before Luc showed up) and the line dropped to noticeably more “calm” again.  Mantra meditation produced more “calm” than just freewheeling thinking, but clearly it IS less “yoked” than breath-counting, just as I’d experienced, if by “yoked” I mean “calm” or vice-versus.  It’s all right there on the graph.

Does this mean mantra meditation is less effective?  Or does it just mean it’s less effective at whatever the Muse is reporting?  Is that focused, effortful feeling the goal?  Or would that effort-feeling pass, possibly, as I got better at it?  If so, could I get to the same “goal” with the mantra method, only slower?  Or something?  It’s all very interesting.

I love doing experiments like this!  Totally takes the boring out of meditation for me.  I loves me some graphs!  Give me some data, I’m all happy camper.  Give me a private black box and yeah, I’m off to the races, but it ain’t meditation.

It only takes a second of drifting off for the Muse’s aural “weather” to respond and get rough.  I can look at these graphs afterwards and pin point, that bumpy stretch was where I was thinking about Agents of SHIELD, and that spike was when the dog jumped on the bed, and that calm bit was when I dropped out of the world for five whole seconds.

The Muse people claim that continued practice will result in measurable improvement.  I’ve only been at it for a month and no noticeable improvement yet, as far as increasing % “calm” but I’m still at it.  I wouldn’t really expect “results” after only a month.  Maybe six months?  I feel like I have to say “results” in quotes because I’m not really sure what the “result” of keeping the line in the “calm” section will be.  Do really seasoned meditators put on the Muse and just flatline that puppy?  Or is there something else going on here?

I wish I knew more about what the line actually is.  There is this write-up at the Muse site.  And this TED talk by the founder of the company, Ariel Garten.  It seems like they came up with this portable, wearable EEG machine and then tried to think of a way to turn it into a product…and decided the meditation angle was the way to go (in the talk she mentions video games, turning on/off lights and appliances, and a levitating chair, I want to see the levitating chair!).  I’m down with that, monetizing is the way of the world, but there’s this vagueness about what meditation is (there are many kinds, of course, with different goals, but still) and what the Muse is telling me with its graph.  It definitely picks up on when I’m 1) thinking, startled, open-eyed and talking, doing math, remembering the plot to Age of Ultron, versus when I’m 2) counting my breaths, or being aware of my breath, or silently reciting a mantra.  I don’t know, I just want to know more from their materials.  More detail, less fluff, less marketing-speak.

Perhaps towards that end, I’m reading a couple of books on the neuroscience of meditation. Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, and Waking, Dreaming Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy by Evan Thompson.  Although I’m wary of the desire of many authors to grasp new science and graft its terminology onto existing new age paradigms to try to give them legitimacy.  I’m not saying these books do that, just…I’m a bit loath to jump on anyone’s bandwagon.  But anyway, I started reading these books, we’ll see how far I get.  My attention span is shit.

Maybe the Muse can help me with that!  If I can just keep yoking my brain to my boring breath for 20 minutes a day, maybe the Almighty Wavy Line will take pity on me and start drifting downward, like a graceful feather, to land in the lake of calm and samadhi promised by so many mediators.  We shall see.

jeff galloway

in which we begin running and Jeff Galloway tells me I’m amazing

I met a gal at a kid birthday party a couple of months ago who was about to go run a marathon.  I was impressed, while she was totally blase about it—until I started asking her more questions (people love to find something to talk about at parties), and she lit up and begin to tell me about Jeff Galloway. Turns out this gal had killed her knee ten years back, requiring surgery, and had thought she would never run again…but had managed to get into it—including this, her seventh marathon—four years ago, using Jeff Galloway’s “run/walk/run” method with, get this, zero pain and zero injuries.

I ran in high school and liked it, but gave it up.  Getting back to it has proved, up to now, impossible, as any time I tried my knees complained bitterly.  But something about this gal’s story got my interest going and I looked up Galloway.  Turns out he was an Olympic runner back in the 70s and has written a bunch of books about training gently and building up super slowly.  He has a website and an app. It all looked absurdly easy, simple intervals essentially, like, starting out you run for a fifteen seconds out of each minute, working up to one minute running/one minute walking and beyond, but never completely giving up the walking.  Ten minutes total to start, building up to an hour of run/walk/run.

Ten minutes, shit.  I could do that.

All casual-like I asked the yurt at large if anyone wanted to play with the app with me.  To my surprise, SuperHubby and Sophie (my 11 year old) both said they’d give it a shot.  In the app, Jeff himself comes on to tell you when to run and when to walk and you can play your tunes in the background.  Nice layout, nice timer features.  Total running handholding.  And that is how we came to be the 3x/week runners for the past month.

That’s right, I’m five weeks in and no knee pain.  My biggest concern is anything that might mess up my yoga practice, so I’ve been ready to drop the experiment in a hot minute.  But so far, so good.

In the app, Jeff has us up to 30 minute run/walks now.  He promises to get us to a 5k if we keep it up.  Me? Run a 5k?  C’est impossible!

Sidestory: He gives these little bite-sized coaching slogans (you can turn it off if you want) as you plod along.  For some reason Sophie (who is 80 lbs of muscle) kept getting messages about fat burning and watching out for over-snacking—odd since I haven’t gotten a one of those.  Instead, Jeff if always telling me how great I am.  Daw, thanks, Jeff.

All while he mocks Sophie in his strong southern accent: “Munch, munch, munch.”

“We don’t talk about that!” jokes Sophie, indignant.


Ooo, I know, maybe if we actually do a 5k, we’ll get matching t-shirts!  The Lassiter Running Club!  I’ve always wanted to (pretend to) be an athlete!  I just voiced that thought and Sophie rolled her eyes at me.  “What?” said I.  To which she answered, “Nothing.  I just had a powerful urge to look at the ceiling.”

Oh hardy har.

Stay tuned.