Dr. Tessa Price lost her infant son to a rare genetic disorder. For Tessa, much more is at stake than science when she invents a radical gene therapy to save another child, seven-year old Gunnar Sigrunsson, who suffers from an equally fatal disease. When her procedure fails to gain U.S. regulatory approval, she opts to treat Gunnar at the Palacio Centro Medico, a posh international center for cutting edge medicine.
During one of her visits to the Palacio, Tessa finds Gunnar almost miraculously improved. On the same trip, chimpanzees in the animal lab seem to go mad, savagely killing one of their own. The events seem disconnected until an animal technician begins to exhibit signs of the same madness and releases the animals, despite their rabies-like symptoms, into the nearby forest.
The leader of a brutal drug cartel occupies the Palacio with his private army, while a rival cartel with modern weapons, lays siege from the outside. As the two factions exchange blows and animals attacks increase, Tessa and a small group of patients hide in the research wing, hoping to avoid detection.
Tessa realizes that the greatest threat may not be the drug lords or deranged chimps, but a revertant virus, combining elements of rabies with a bat virus that creates a rabies-like contagion that can be spread through touch, and apparently through the air. Tessa’s cell studies show that Gunnar is the host. The boy she is trying to save for the sake of personal redemption – for the fatal genes she passed to her own son – might doom everyone around him.
Reversion is the second novel of Dr. Amy Rogers, MD, PhD, who writes science thrillers, a genre one can explore in depth on her blog, sciencethrillers.com.
Dr. Amy Rogers
Amy is also a writing friend I know from the Sacramento branch of The California Writer’s Club. I posted an enthusiastic review of her first novel, Petroplague, in 2011. Once again, she has created a gripping story that parallels the headlines we read in the papers. You can find both ebook and hardcopy versions of Reversion by clicking the icon at the top of this post.
I’ve read about this, but it never happened to me before.
Late yesterday afternoon I was driving home from the bay area. I’d been up at 6:30 to attend a second day of Dharma teachings. The weather was fine, traffic was moving, I was listening to a decent audio book, but a wave of fatigue overtook me, and all I could think of was stopping for a stretch and caffeine at a Starbucks up the road.
I pulled up behind a small truck and half a dozen cars at the Benicia Bridge tollbooth. The truck seemed to take forever getting through, as if there was an argument about the toll. With some mixture of fatigue and (hopefully) the wisdom I had absorbed from the teachings, I waited patiently, and finally reached the window. I handed a five dollar bill to the cashier.
“No need, sir,” she said. “The lady ahead of you paid your toll.”
As I said, previously, this was something I had only read about before. I was suddenly wide awake, wondering how I could pass the gift on. Carry $10 next time I came to that bridge and pay for the stranger behind me, yes, but what about day to day actions? I don’t cross toll bridges often, and as I felt the effect of that small gesture ripple through me, all I could think of was how to pass it on.
“Don’t bother trying to save the world,” one of the lamas had said. “What right choice is in front of you now?”
What a powerful question, and how worthwhile it is to keep it in mind!
This morning, I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother. She lived to be 92, had 14 great-grandchildren, was happily married for 49 years, and was lucid and even cracking jokes with those at her bedside until almost the end.
Almost everyone I talked or listened to commented on her outlook – positive, even when facing adversity. How central that seems to have been to this life well lived!
I’ve been thinking a lot about attitudes recently – actually almost daily, without coming to any clear conclusions. Through the course of the year, documented in various posts, I’ve been looking at views and outlooks, my own and others, from the perspective of which are helpful and which are not.
It’s easier to see in others. My mother lost her father when she was in grade school, as the result of a freak accident. I remember my mom in adulthood with a certain wariness, a backward glance over the shoulder, as if wondering when or how the next blow would fall. Be it nature or nurture, I’m coming to see how I carry the same trait, without even any such clear reason why. The good news is that when such things come to consciousness, we can look at them, and in observing they begin to change.
Along these lines, I remember an irreverent joke my father used to tell:
“Once there was a study to determine which children were optimistic and which were pessimists,” my father would begin. “One day a group of observers came through for a tour. In the first room they visited, a boy was crying his eyes out, even though the room was a virtual toy store, with shiny new bikes and every kind of playing you could imagine.
‘What’s wrong?’ one of the observers asked.
‘Everything’s so nice,’ the boy said. ‘I’m afraid I might break something.’
The group moved on to the next room, where they came upon another boy who smiled and sang as he shoveled his way through a mountain of horse manure.
‘How can you be so happy in all of this mess?’ an observer asked.
‘Easy,’ the boy said. ‘With all this shit, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!'”
I know which boy I have been for most of my life. I also know which one I aspire to be!
I’ve devoted only one of 645 posts to a television show, Longmire, because the series is exceptional. Walt Longmire, a rural Wyoming sherif, is haunted by his wife’s murder. Each week we see him try to keep peace with his own demons, with his daughter, his employees, and the neighboring Cheyenne reservation, while solving crimes and capturing desperadoes.
Though the show has a solid viewer base, A&E cancelled the series two weeks ago. TV Guide reports that Longmire viewers are too far over the hill. With an average age of 61, apparently we don’t by as much stuff as the sought-after 19-49 year old demographic.
“It was losing money for us,” said one A&E executive. “It’s a business.” No one thought the decision was based on quality…
All may not be lost. As one of the top 25 television shows of the summer, Warner Brothers is putting together a presentation to other cable networks to continue with a fourth season for Longmire. I hope they succeed so I don’t have to spend my “golden years” recalling the good old days when television was occasionally intelligent.
Russel so often brings us magnificent photos, but here he gives something else – suggestions that are in reach, things we can do in the face of the glut negativity that greets us each morning in the papers and the news.
For those who continue to rant about things over which you have no control, I would suggest getting out in your community and volunteering.
My life has been full of volunteerism, so much so that too often I let the unpaid volunteer job interfere with the paid professional job. I started with Key Club in high school, then Alpha Phi Omega National Co-ed Service Fraternity at Texas A&M University, and then to Red Cross, American Heart Association, Special Olympics, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and many, many others.
Following are 50 things you can do to help the world. I have done them all at some point in my life. Don’t let your ego get in the way of contributing to your neighborhood and city. Keep in mind that businesses have liability concerns, so the type of services that you’re allowed to volunteer for might be limited in some circumstances.
Last Friday, August 15, the theme of National Public Radio’s “TED Radio Hour” was “Simply Happy,” and carried the message that “finding happiness may be simpler than you think.” Narrator Guy Raz reviewed the ideas of five speakers whose TED presentations focused on happiness as something that can be cultivated.
Matt Killingsworth, a researcher at UC San Francisco, gathered real-time input from 35,000 people via a simple smart phone app one can register for at trackyourhappiness.org. Several times during the day, volunteers receive three questions on their phones:
1) How do you feel right now? (on a scale from very good to very bad).
2) What are you doing? (check one of 22 choices).
3) Are you thinking about what you are doing? (as opposed to “mind wandering”).
Killingsworth discovered that 47% of the time, people are thinking of something other than what they are doing (ranging from a high of 65% when taking a shower, to an interesting 10% whose minds wander while having sex). His finding, across all activities is that “people are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering.” This includes even unpopular tasks like commuting to work. He concludes that “mind wandering is a cause rather than a consequence of unhappiness.”
Though he doesn’t cite the growing interest in mindfulness meditation practice, it’s significant that recent articles in Scientific American have mentioned studies of this practice, including Is Mindfulness Good Medicine, which appeared on the Scientific American blog the day before NPR posted Killingsworth’s findings.
Carl Honore is a journalist and the author of In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed (2005). He claims our world is “addicted to speed” and living “the fast life rather than the good life.” He says his wakeup moment came when he realized he was speed-reading bedtime stories to his young son, compulsively rushing through one of the richest times of his day.
Honore says we are “so marinated in the culture of speed that we almost fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives – on our health, our work, our relationships and our community.” For one thing, speed and adrenaline can be exciting. For another there is a strong cultural bias that equates slowing down with being a slacker. One common meaning of “slow” is “not very bright.”
Honore says he still enjoys the fast pace of life as a journalist in London, but he is now “in touch with his inner tortoise,” and doesn’t unconsciously overload himself. “I feel like I’m living my life rather than actually just racing through it. So is it possible? That’s really the main question before us today. Is it possible to slow down? And I’m happy to be able to say to you that the answer is a resounding yes.”
Graham Hill was an early ’90’s internet millionaire by the age of 30. He sold the company he had built with friends, and then filled “the void” he felt inside with stuff: “I bought a 3,600 square foot home, Volvo sedan, tons of furniture, gizmos, technology, stereos, probably had one of the first MP3 players. You can’t believe how much stuff.”
Unlike most of his wealthy peers, Hill realized his stuff wasn’t making him happy so he got rid of most of it. He now lives in a custom designed, 420 square foot New York City apartment that is wonder of space efficiency:
Hill notes that Americans use three times as much space as we did 50 years ago, yet we have still spawned a $22 billion dollar, 2.2 billion square foot self-storage industry. Other consequences include, “Lots of credit card debt, huge environmental footprints, and perhaps not coincidentally, our happiness levels flatlined over the same 50 years. Well, I’m here to suggest there’s a better way – that less might actually equal more.”
Dan Gilbert, Harvard Psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness (2007), spoke in his talk of the many ways in which our happiness does not depend on circumstances or getting what we want. Humans are resilient enough, he says, to recover from serious trauma, though imagination generally tells us otherwise. Gilbert cited three cases, drawn from a single edition of the New York Times.
Jim Wright, Speaker of the House of Representatives before Newt Gingrich, resigned in disgrace after a scandal involving “a shady book deal.” He lost his position, reputation, and money, but now says, “I am so much better off physically, financially, mentally and almost every other way.”
Pete Best, The Beatles’ first drummer, was replaced by Ringo Starr just before the band became world famous. Still a drummer and studio musician, Best says, “I’m happier than I would’ve been with The Beatles.”
And most dramatic to me was Moreese Bickham, 78, released from prison because of DNA evidence after serving 37 years for a crime he did not commit. Upon release, Bickham said, “I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.”
Baring “extraordinary” people like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, we can hardly imagine prison as being worthwhile, let alone “glorious,” but Gilbert uses these and other examples to underline the power that “reframing” events has on our outlook. The stories we tell and the meaning we find in experience are critical. “It is wrong to say that we have no control over our happiness. It is wrong to say that we have complete control over our happiness. We have some input into how happy we will be…We can learn to see events in a constructive and positive way.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, has devoted himself to interfaith dialog and the interaction of religion and science. His TED topic was gratitude, as one might expect of a man whose home page is gratefullness.org. He says most people think we are grateful when we are happy, but the opposite is true: gratitude leads to happiness.
He outlines a simple way to cultivate gratitude, beginning with stopping our minds and our busyness to reflect that “You have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you. And yet, that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us. We say opportunity knocks only once. Well, think again – every moment is a new gift, over and over again, and if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity or we can miss it. And if we avail ourselves of the opportunity, it is the key to happiness.”
Such a simple step, repeated, carries great weight, for Steindl-Rast reflects that grateful people are not fearful, and if we are not fearful, we will not be violent. “If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not from a sense of scarcity, and you’re willing to share.If you’re grateful, you’re enjoying the differences between people and you’re respectful to everybody, and that changes this power pyramid on which we live. And it doesn’t make for equality, but it makes for equal respect, and that is the important thing. A grateful world is a world of joyful people, grateful people are joyful people. And that is what I hope for us.”
The question of attitudes and habits that lead to wellbeing has emerged as the key theme of theFirstGates this year. I’ve posted ideas from Carl Jung, the Dalai Lama, and Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. Here are five more voices (and more to come) saying that happiness is not an accident, not given to a few select or fortunate people. It is a choice we can all make, a direction we can aim for at any given moment
Sometime during the first semester of graduate work in psychology, our clinical practice professor made an interesting observation. “The funniest people I know,” she said, “have all deeply experienced sorrow.” Her words came back when I heard we had lost Robin Williams.
They say he suffered from alcoholism and depression, both progressive, fatal diseases that can be arrested. Interestingly, the media has done much to remove the stigma from both conditions. Ted Danson, as bartender, Sam Malone on Cheers, helped normalize an alcoholic abstaining and going to meetings. And the constant din of TV antidepressant commercials has probably primed millions to “Ask their doctor” about this oh so modern affliction.
Untreated depression, like untreated alcoholism, puts a person at risk for suicide, accidents, and poor health choices that end too many lives far too early. It’s futile to speculate on why some people reach out for help and others do not, but no individual, not you nor I, is a statistic. We are not bound by any kind of odds.
In this world where information is so easy to come by, it is my hope than anyone who sees in themselves the conditions that took Robin Williams from us may hit google and check out the mountains of information on what they may have and what can be done about it.
This day began on a solemn note. Personal business had taken me to the city where my parents are buried. I stopped by the cemetery on my way out, pulled some dandelions and left some flowers. Such a visit puts me in a reflective mood, but even seeing my dad’s WWII veteran headstone didn’t jog my memory and remind me of what a solemn day this is for the whole world.
Only during my ride home, with my iPod playing music at random, did I recall the importance of August 2 when I heard Andy Stewart’s song, “Young Jimmy in Flanders.” World War I began one hundred years ago today.
Andy Stewart was frontman for “Silly Wizard,” a Scottish folk-rock group. He also released four solo albums. Fire in the Glen, 1985, features a song about his grandfather, Jamie, who served as piper with a Scottish regiment in the first world war, and somehow survived.
There’s poignancy at the very thought of bagpipers versus machine guns, and Stewart pulls no punches in condemning the blindness and stupidity that embroiled the world in slaughter:
Jimmy went to Flanders so many years ago,
To the Somme, to Ypres, and Arras, not so many years ago.
He played his pipes to battle,
And the laddies died like cattle,
And the brandy was drunk in Whitehall,
A million miles away.
This week, by choice and circumstance, I was on a media fast except for CNN during the time it took to eat in the motel breakfast. That was time enough. Eggs and toast and chaos in Gaza for breakfast nook; war as reality TV; we’ll be right back after this message. Today, I reflected that “The Middle East,” as it exists today, is a direct result of the first world war.
On August 2, 1914, German cavalry crossed into Luxembourg to seize control of railway lines. In a very real sense, one could say there is no end in sight to the conflict that was ignited that day.