Friday, December 24, 2021

Book Announcement: The Martians Want Their Planet Back! (Ifscapes, Vol. 4)

Announcing The Martians Want Their Planet Back!, the fourth volume in the Ifscapes series.  Below is an excerpt from the description of the book, now available on Amazon Kindle:

"Dystopias, unrealities, experiments, and maintenance issues come together with comedy, medieval saga, and interrupted daily grind in this collection of eclectic, eccentric, entertaining, elevating, escapist, and other otherworldly worlds. What is the real rabbit hole in space-time? Why is the universe going dim? And are the newest sensations really extraterrestrial entities with new and sensational aspirations? The latest addition to the wide range of worlds in the ever-expanding multiversal Ifscapes, The Martians Want Their Planet Back! adjourns the limitations on the imagination and pushes beyond the extraordinary in quests, courtrooms, and cosmologies."

Thank you for reading, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Merry Christmas!

Some stories of hope for this Christmas week.  

After sustaining a spinal cord injury in July, Katelynn Bechaz walked out of the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Congratulations to Aldo Amenta not only for earning his Master’s degree post-SCI, but also for walking across the stage at the graduation ceremony

Thank you to Paralyzed Veterans of America for their work to support veterans this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Candice Caesar was injured while serving in the army in 1999.  A walking quadriplegic, she has reached her goal of completing 100 half-marathons in the 50 different states before her 50th birthday.  She did it within 5 years.  “‘What kept me motivated and fueled me was my faith in God,’ she said. ‘I actually was on a quest to share my testimony with one person in every state and in the last few states I actually talked to five different people and that's what kept me going.’”  Thank you to Candice for her service in the military and for sharing her testimony.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, August 13, 2021

Book Announcement: A Many-Turning Multiverse (Ifscapes, Vol. 3)

It's a pleasure to announce the publication of A Many-Turning Multiverse, Volume 3 in the Ifscapes series.  The book is now available on Amazon Kindle.  Here's an excerpt from the description:

"Following in the footsteps of Ifscapes: Empires and Androids, this free-standing multiversing volume of Ifscapes returns to the fluctuating, fervent, and fantastical realms of reimagined ancient Greek and Roman mythology and legend. Exploring the worlds of what if, what would have been, and what might be, these twelve short science fiction and fantasy stories put a spin on classic tales and characters, spanning past, present, and future in a full array of covert conspiracies, mass-scale invasions, serial satires, excursions to far-away forests and far-flung world-ships, and more." 

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Progress Update (Video Series)

It's been quite a while since my last post, and many people have asked about my personal progress.  With SCI, I find that it can be hard to describe small changes that continue to occur over time.  One of the reasons is that the changes that happen often have to reach a threshold where they become functional and noticeable.  I am continuing to have little improvements in sensation and muscle response, and am thankful for them, as well as for my friends and others who keep asking about progress.  God has been good to me.

Another reason for less visible progress is the normal wear and tear that come along with ongoing physical therapy and SCI.  For me, the repercussions of intense musculoskeletal damage aside from SCI are an issue.  Other people experience similar struggles after traumatic physical injuries.  Please remember us in your thoughts and prayers!  SCIs do not stop with an initial injury.  

Because two of the main purposes behind this blog are to encourage and educate others, I'm posting some new videos to illustrate my progression since 2013.  The first video shows May through July of 2014.  This is close to the very beginning of when I started getting back on my feet, and I could only move backward at first.  Please stay tuned for post-2014 videos in the coming days.  As you'll be able to see in the various clips from 2014 to 2021, I've used many different types of devices and bracing.  My hope is that adding these images to my YouTube channel helps viewers understand the world of SCI a little more.  And, as always, thank you to all who have offered your prayers and support!  More to come.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Virtual ConQuesT 52

Thank you to the ConQuesT 52 organizers and members for the opportunity to join the "Writing When Life Rolls Over You" panel this past weekend!  ConQuesT, "Kansas City's Original Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention," takes place every Memorial Day weekend.  The weekend's theme, "The Future Is Now (and Then) . . . ," was a great reminder of science fiction's ability to take us in many directions at the same time.  

Looking in many directions at once was a major aspect of the panel's discussion.  What do you do to keep writing and to stay focused in the face of adversity, daily obstacles, and time constraints?  Since dealing with a spinal cord injury involves a special degree of prayer, innovation, flexibility, and support, I felt right at home with the panel's topic.  Thanks to my fellow panelists Rosemary Williams and Lynette M. Burrows for sharing their tips and strategies!

Monday, May 31, 2021

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Upward and Downward Contrafactuals (The Upside and Downside of Would-Have-Beens)

Many languages use a certain type of grammatical expression called a contrafactual condition (a.k.a. contrary to fact, counterfactual, or CTF) to describe what would have been or would be, if only something had or hadn't happened.  There are various types of CTFs.  Some focus on a thing that didn't happen yesterday that would have made a difference today.  Others point out what would have happened five years ago if something else had not happened five years before that.

One category for describing CTFs is as "upward" or "downward."  Upward CTFs typically reflect on how things would have turned out better: regretting poor decisions, obsessing on a mistake, or simply focusing on how much a single past event changed everything for the worse.  "If I had moved to take that other job, I wouldn't be looking for work now" and "Life would have been better if I had been healthier last year" are examples of upward CTFs.  They look upward: at how things would have been better ("looking up") in other circumstances.  Downward CTFs are the opposite.  They express relief, celebrate a good choice, or concentrate on what has made things better.  "I wouldn't have been happy in my old neighborhood if I'd stayed in the first apartment," and "If I had quit that class, I would've graduated after the lockdowns, and I'm so glad that didn't happen!" are downward CTFs.

Whether we know it or not, CTFs are a big part of our lives every day.  We use them to make decisions, determine cause and effect, play games, and do math problems.  CTF thinking about the past, present, and the future influences us.

Several studies in recent years have more clearly demonstrated the impact of CTF thinking.  In general, people who spend more time in downward CTF thought patterns seem to be healthier and happier than people who habitually practice upward CTF thinking.  In fact, upward CTF thinking more often leads to depression.

The connection is sensible enough.  If you spend time focusing on how things would have been or would be better, especially if you dwell on regrets and mistakes, those events will overshadow everything else.  It's not wrong to think about the past and alternative outcomes; remember that CTF thinking can be motivational and logical, helping you to move forward in healthy, necessary ways.  Still, where and how we focus our attention counts — and that's something worth remembering, too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Prayers and Support for Neamya

Please keep Neamya Zacharias and his family in your thoughts and prayers.  Neamya is 22 years old and recently sustained a neck injury.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Yale and Your Stem Cells

"Yale Scientists Repair Injured Spinal Cord Using Patients' Own Stem Cells." 

I'm not linking to this headline just because it has to do with a discovery made by my alma mater — even though it does.  The article is remarkable for other reasons.  Here's why.

Everyone has stem cells.  What if yours had the ability to help you recover from a life-changing injury?  There may be good news.  It looks as if they just might.  In this study of autologous stem cell use to treat spinal cord injuries, over half of the participants had "substantial improvements in key functions" shortly after having injections of their own bone marrow derived stem cells (MSCs).  The key functions that were improved include walking and using their hands.  Those are huge improvements.  Just as encouraging is the report of "[n]o substantial side effects."

Take a closer look at the numbers and the ASIA designations of participants.  Here's a breakdown of the study results, as available on ScienceDirect.  Thirteen people took part in the study.  Six were classified as ASIA A (complete); three of them improved to ASIA B (sensory incomplete) and two of them improved to ASIA C (motor incomplete).  Two of the thirteen participants were ASIA B.  One of them improved to ASIA C and the other to ASIA D (motor incomplete).  Five of the participants were ASIA C.  All five of them improved to ASIA D by the day after the infusion.  Overall, of the thirteen people in the study, twelve of them had improvements.  Six months after the infusion, functional improvements remained.

It's not a perfect trial.  Researchers caution that the study was unblinded and had no placebo controls.  Nevertheless, the promise is impressive: if you have a spinal cord injury, your own stem cells can bring significant improvement in important motor function.  Possibly within weeks, or even a day.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Stimulation Study and a Word on Significance

Another new study has been published with encouraging results for those working to regain hand and arm mobility, and it has something to say about the nature of persevering in hope.  In a trial conducted by University of Washington researchers, six participants received noninvasive stimulation of spinal cord nerve cells.  The six people who took part in the study did physical therapy together with the stimulation.  Every one of the six had some improvements in hand function.  

Senior author and UW associate professor Chet Moritz emphasizes the importance of changes witnessed during the study:

"Both people who had no hand movement at the beginning of the study started moving their hands again during stimulation, and were able to produce a measurable force between their fingers and thumb . . .  That’s a dramatic change, to go from being completely paralyzed below the wrists down to moving your hands at will."

Six months after the conclusion of training with the stimulation, these dramatic improvements remained.  Researchers found the results more impressive than they expected. 

One of the most worthwhile remarks is an observation made by Moritz later in the same article: 

"We’re seeing a common theme across universities — stimulating the spinal cord electrically is making people better . . . But it does take motivation. The stimulator helps you do the exercises, and the exercises help you get stronger, but the improvements are incremental. Over time, however, they add up into something that’s really astounding."

In context, Moritz is referring to the possible benefit of spinal cord stimulation in conjunction with exercises.  Still, I want to draw attention to a slightly different implication of his statement in relation to SCIs: small changes can have more significance than we may attribute to them.  It is all too easy to give up when improvements are taking time or seem barely noticeable, especially since (unfortunately) some therapists discourage the belief that relatively little changes could become anything meaningful.  Yet as this study demonstrates, little things can add up.  And they can truly matter.  

Significance can arise from small things in almost every area of life.  How often do we hear that you should never give up, just because circumstances look hopeless?  Or how frequently are we told that practice and training make a difference, even if that difference is not yet visible?  Improvements and changes might be "incremental," as Moritz describes them, but maybe "[o]ver time" they could become "something that's really astounding."  Persevering is difficult.  When a situation appears to be hopelessly slow — or not improving at all — it might look like time to give up.  It could be that you need stimulation in some sense: a refreshing perspective, a new discipline, a boost of creativity, or some other infusion of life.  Or you may simply need to forge ahead as you are.  Whatever the case, realize that significance might look really different from what you would expect.

As these types of studies continue to take place, perhaps they will lead to a greater awareness of what significance can look like — and encourage people to keep moving forward in hope.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy Science Fiction Day!

Happy National Science Fiction Day, celebrating, among other things, the birthday of the brilliant writer Isaac Asimov

Science fiction is an incredibly rich field of thinking and mode of thought.  "[T]he task of science fiction is not to predict the future," says Eileen Gunn.  "Rather, it contemplates possible futures."  Chris McKitterick, Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction (University of Kansas), writes, "[M]ore than just a literary mode, SF is an ongoing conversation."

SF isn't merely a conversation about future, either (as McKitterick also notes).  It's a thriving, dynamic conversation that regards multiple directions at once.  Through SF, we envision, reimagine, and reconsider the past, present, and future.  Speculation and social commentary are not restricted to any one point of what we might call our timeline.  And that's one of the many beauties of science fiction.

For a great illustration of enduring SF themes in action — and just a really great way to celebrate a proper Science Fiction Day — take a look at the outer space voyage in one of the earliest Proto-SF works, Lucian's True History.